Canterbury Tales, The (1972)

Not as complete as The Decameron was, this lust-filled, sex-crazed medieval fantasy will probably knock you out with its comic outrageousness.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #1,087

Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini
1972 | Italy | Comedy/Drama | 111 mins | 1.85:1 | Italian, English, Latin & Gaelic

R21 (passed clean) for strong, graphic sexuality, full nudity, and some disturbing imagery

Cast: Hugh Griffith, Laura Betti, Ninetto Davoli
Plot: Pasolini’s artistic, sometimes violent, always vividly cinematic retelling of some of Chaucer’s most erotic tales.
Awards: Won Golden Berlin Bear

Distributor: MGM

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature – Sexuality
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: The Arts House – Pasolini Retrospective
First Published: 11 Oct 2014
Spoilers: No

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 confirmed sightings of male genitals in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales, the second installment of his unofficial ‘Trilogy of Life’.  But I think there might be more than that. 

One wonders why the Board of Film Censors here in Singapore didn’t cut (or castrate) the penis parade, but just maybe they found the film too outrageously funny that they were unaware that they have used up their last laugh. 

Screened at the Pasolini retrospective, where Arabian Nights (1974) and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) were conspicuously missing, no doubt still mercilessly banned by our beloved Patriarchy, The Canterbury Tales is a relatively weaker work from the provocative director, despite the film clinching the Golden Berlin Bear, making it the most prestigiously awarded feature in Pasolini’s oeuvre.

Based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s saucy tales, this medieval fantasy-comedy is a collection of short stories, some fleshed out better than others, with a common theme – that of lust and sex.  Some stories don’t make much sense, but you can’t fault Pasolini’s breadth of imagination and wild, colourful vision of a distant past. 

“Between a jest and a joke, many a truth can be told.”

These characters, enthusiastic about life, and of course sex, play out their schemes through peepholes, wanton display of nudity, and the perverse desire to freely exercise their sexual thoughts.  After all, in a land of crazed men and women, sex is the natural equalizer, both a troublemaker and a peacemaker. 

Throughout the film, Pasolini conjures up an absurd concoction of strange characters, locales and even a surreal, if scatologically comic, depiction of hell.  Offensive, but light-hearted, The Canterbury Tales doesn’t take itself too seriously, and some of its almost farce-like situational humour recall the spirit of Chaplin and ‘The Three Stooges’. 

It is easy to compare The Canterbury Tales with The Decameron (1971).  They seem to have been plucked from the same tree, passionately planted by Pasolini. 

The latter is the more complete film though; the stories are more compelling, more rounded if you will.  It is also a riskier work.  The Canterbury Tales, on the other hand, is simply naughty fun while it lasts.

Grade: B  



  1. […] With The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974) further establishing Pasolini as a singular force breaking down taboos amid increasing resistance, it is only fitting (in a macabre sort of way) that his path ended with Salo, a film still misunderstood now as it was then.  […]



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