The Decameron (1971)
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * *

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Pasolini relates a series of brief tales, originally told by Bocaccio, of illicit love, revenge, guilt, and vice, all of which are set in late Medieval Italy.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Decameron is a vibrant, lusty celebration of the physical delights of life. Although the director has dispensed with the framing story of Bocaccio's masterpiece, his presentations of the author's tales are sufficiently connected by theme, place, and time so that they form a coherent whole and, collectively, contribute to the film's aesthetic worth. What is more, each story is such an absolute joy that, even in isolation, every one of them is able to fascinate and charm the viewer.

Pasolini imbues each of the tales he tells with a wonderful appreciation of both the happiness and the sorrow of man's existence. The viewer is thus treated to a vision of reality as filled with secret loves, passion, deceit, revenge, and countless lusty pleasures. In fact, the director never falters in his evocation of an absolutely enthralling, dangerous, and thrilling world. Even the various threats, fears, and opponents the movie's protagonists face, as well as all the numerous hardships they endure, never detract from this sense of delight Pasolini kindles. Instead, the viewer is made to feel the excitement of the characters' ordeals and adventures and to appreciate even the difficulties of existence so that he becomes aware even of the beauty of the worst of times. By so revealing the rich loveliness of the world in all its complexity, the director enables the viewer to revel in its wonders and immerse himself in its joys.

Although much of the film is visually undistinguished, the simple beauty of the backdrops before which Pasolini sets the events he narrates constantly helps to arouse in the viewer an appreciation of the world in which he lives. There is hardly a moment in the movie when the loveliness of the physical things with which we are surrounded is not made manifest, and this often austere beauty greatly contributes to the sense of rapture that permeates the film.

The movie's actors are just as helpful in stirring up such emotions. Most give natural, even naive performances and bring to The Decameron a real feeling of delight, of the vibrant, carnal pleasures of the material world. While there are no great performances in the movie, the majority of the actors do add to this sense.

The Decameron is certainly among the best of Pasolini's films. It is a consistent, joyous celebration of life and a true masterpiece.

Review by Keith Allen

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