Thursday, 22 May 2014

I racconto di Canterbury (1972) Review



At university, our module group this term recently got around to watching Pasolini's film adaptation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (very much for educational purposes). Let me tell you, it was shamelessly crass and far more ridiculous than I could ever have expected. I am quite sure everyone was in shock by the end. There was a lot of nudity, which was expected, as the book seems highly sex orientated from what I’d read already. Even the cinematography was oversexualised (particularly the shots of Damian at the feast as he is looking at May) as we analysed in depth for our practice presentation. The overall tone of the film was surreal, lingered on uncomfortable moments with close up shots such as January with his filthy laughter, and mischievously humoured. The January and May segment I thought was the most accurately portrayed to my own envisioning given the cold colour scheme and stony interiors of January's castle (I'd imagine this was possibly reflective of his own impotence contrasted with the warmth of the garden outside).  

Moving on, however, I must confess. When I read in the credits Tom Baker starred in this film, I wasn't exactly prepared for seeing full frontal nudity of him in The Wife of Bath segment, and even now it has burned into my nightmares. Curiously the film is set and filmed in England, the majority of the actors are English, and yet everyone is dubbed over in Italian.

Now if any of you have seen this film already, you will know the end segment is the most visually impacting, where we are taken to a surreal version of hell with multi-coloured winged demons. One is farting out friars from a gigantic anus for an extended period of time (apparently this was in the Friar’s Tale but I hadn’t got around to reading that part yet). Notably, I found this was very much like the animated sequences from Monty Python's the Holy Grail - which similarly are surreal and silly, incorporating medieval artistic elements/illustrations.

But, I racconto di Canterbury didn’t really have the aesthetics I imagined. Some parts did, but on the whole, the mise en scene possessed a very 70's vibe. Particularly some of the haircuts/costume choices for some of the characters. I thought the setting would be more… medieval and darker? than it was. As another observation in regards to differences to the book, It’s also noted the gay sex scene following a subsequent execution by fire on a griddle was an addition by Pasolini, not in the book (supposedly reflective of his own personal life and scandals). Overall I found the film aesthetically did not live up to my expectations (we argued if the stylistic elements of this adaptation were an anachronism), but it was certainly an interesting and memorable take on a good book.

Overall rating: 7/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis.

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