From sun-sparkled Naples to muddy medieval England for chapter two of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life — and with all the cornholing, golden showers, and silent-movie mugging Chaucer left out. The most amorphously anecdotal of the three, it’s also the one where the discrepancy between the movies’ notional life-affirmation and the brackish despairing of their execution emerges most grotesquely, every stab at “joyous” sexuality followed by the self-reflex of grotty degradation.
The catalogue of romping, cuckolding, trickery and flatulence is X-rated Monty Python, scribbled by Chaucer (Pasolini, of course) while chortling at a copy of The Decameron — indeed, the Merchant’s Tale concludes with the husband’s (Hugh Griffith, in full, cawing Tom Jones mode) sight restored by the porchside lovebirds from the Boccaccio adaptation, just in time to see his wife (Josephine Chaplin) being felt up.
Pasolini pays tedious tribute to Josephine’s dad by turning the Cook’s Tale into a one-reeler with Ninetto Davoli in Little Tramp bowler; Dan Thomas is interrupted mid-grope with Jenny Runacre and resumes praying with his pants bulging, before the Miller’s Tale wraps with her giving her young suitor a face-full of fart and him getting a smoldering iron up his ass. Later, the Wife from Bath (Laura Betti), here a hennish nympho, gives Tom Baker a picnic handjob, while the Pardoner’s Tale is delayed long enough for a tavern interlude for some blithe buggering and water sports.
Not all is fun and games, though, and the Friar’s Tale spots a found sodomite, not rich enough to bribe his way out, publicly roasted as the Devil (Franco Citti) hawks bagels for the crowd — that the sequence remains the most vivid episode points to the desolation behind Pasolini’s own self-portrait of happy serenity. Souls shooting out of Satan’s rectum in a mock-Bosch coda? Tales “told for the mere pleasure of their telling,” indeed. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli.