While the movie's cinematography is generally pedestrian, Pasolini has set his tales in locations of such stunning beauty that the film is infused with their intoxicating loveliness and is itself made beautiful as a consequence. Over the course of his Arabian Nights, the director shows the viewer marvellous towering cities from the Middle East, broad deserts, and gorgeous Nepalese temples. All are entrancing, and all remind the viewer both of the wonders of the world in which he lives and of the tremendous skills of the human beings who crafted many of the movie's lovely backdrops.
What is more, the whole of the film is pervaded with a delicious lustiness and a rapturous love of life. Though the various characters of the stories suffer diverse tragedies, their narratives are woven into a wonderful display of life's endless beauties. Even suffering emerges as fabulous and exhilarating, as a part of the rich spectacle of living. Pasolini rejoices throughout in the pleasures and the charms of the physical universe around us. He conjures up the wonders of life's magic with the movie's marvelous carnal vibrancy and, with its potent erotic fervor, evokes the blissfulness of existence. The film is a magnificent acclamation of the world that allows the viewer to imbibe the joys of being alive so that he is intoxicated and exhilarated by the experience of watching it.
In constructing this lovely vision, Pasolini has employed only a handful of the tales told in The Thousand Nights and One Night, and many of those he has related are truncated and significantly altered from the forms they have in the literary classic. For example, "The Tale of Kamar al Zaman and Princess Budur," of which only the first part is narrated in the film, is no longer told of a Persian prince and a Chinese princess, but of a young man and woman from a nomadic African tribe. Although the original tale is deliciously magical, Pasolini's version is charming as well. The same can also be said of the other stories told, including even the frame story. While the overarching narrative is no longer that of Shahrazad, the tale of the slave girl searching for her beloved master which replaces it is one of the film's most entertaining. The slave girl herself is a real delight. She is wise, lusty, and ingenious. Her master, though something of a fool, is besotted by her and is just as appreciative of life's pleasures as is his beloved. They are both charming characters and their story is fascinating, exciting, and wondrous.
Pasolini's Arabian Nights is truly one of the masterpieces of cinema as an artistic medium. It is a delicious, delightful celebration of life in all its wonder, tragedy, and beauty.
Review by Keith Allen
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