Blu-ray, DVD Release: Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life

Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: Nov. 13, 2012
Price: DVD $79.95, Blu-ray $79.95
Studio: Criterion


The Decameron movie scene

Ninetto Davoli enjoys the sweet smell of life in Pasolini's The Decameron.

Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s (Salò) Trilogy of Life, from the early 1970s, consists of his film renditions of a trio of masterpieces of pre-modern world literature: Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and One Thousand and One Nights (which is often referred to as The Arabian Nights).

The late Pasolini’s comedy-drama movies are now considered to be most uninhibited and extravagant works, a brazen and bawdy triptych that sets out to challenge consumer capitalism and celebrate the human body while commenting on contemporary sexual and religious mores and hypocrisies.

Definitely not for all tastes, the films offer heaping doses of Pasolini’s scatological humor and his rough-hewn sensuality, most of which leave all modern standards of decency behind.

All three movies feature the gorgeous production designs of Dante Ferretti (Hugo) and the oh-so-Italian music of Ennio Morricone (Days of Heaven).

Here’s a look at the three films in the Trilogy of Life:

The Decameron (1971)

In the first film of the trilogy, Pasolini’s adaptation of Boccaccio’s collection of 14th century moral tales explores the delectations and dark corners of an earlier and, as the filmmaker saw it, less compromised time. Among the chief delights in the film, which trans­poses the action to Naples from Boccaccio’s Florence, are a young man’s exploits with a gang of grave robbers, some randy nuns who sin with a strapping gardener, and Pasolini’s appearance as a pupil of the painter Giotto, at work on a massive fresco.

The Canterbury Tales (1972)

Eight of Chaucer’s lusty tales come to life in Pasolini’s delirious interpretation, which was shot in England. From the story of a nobleman struck blind after marrying a much younger and ultimately promiscuous bride, to a climactic trip to a hell populated by an outrageous assortment of friars and demons, The Canterbury Tales is an undeniably imaginative work of merry blasphemy, framed by Pasolini’s portrayal of Chaucer himself.

Arabian Nights (1974)

Pasolini traveled to Africa, India and the Middle East to realize this ambitious cinematic treatment of a handful of the stories from the legendary One Thousand and One Nights. This is not the fairy-tale world of Scheherazade or Aladdin or Ali Baba — instead, the director focuses on the more erotic tales, ones of desire, betrayal and atonement, framed by the story of a young man’s quest to reconnect with his beloved slave girl.

Criterion’s release of the Trilogy represents the DVD and Blu-ray debuts of the three films in the U.S.

Presented in Italian with English subtitles, the collection includes the following features:

  • new high-definition digital restorations of all three films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray editions
  • new visual essays by film scholars Patrick Rumble and Tony Rayns on The Decameron and Arabian Nights, respectively
  • new interviews with art director Dante Ferretti and composer Ennio Morricone about their work with Pasolini, and with film scholar Sam Rohdie on The Canterbury Tales
  • The Lost Body of Alibech (2005), a 45-minute documentary by Roberto Chiesi about a lost sequence from The Decameron
  • The Secret Humiliation of Chaucer (2006), a 47-minute documentary by Chiesi about The Canterbury Tales
  • Via Pasolini, a documentary in which Pasolini discusses his views on language, film and modern society
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Form of the City (1974), a 16-minute documentary by Pasolini and Paolo Burnatto about the ancient Italian cities Orte and Sabaudia
  • deleted scenes from Arabian Nights, with transcriptions of pages from the original script
  • Pasolini-approved English-dubbed track for The Canterbury Tales
  • trailers
  • new English subtitle translations
  • booklet featuring essays by critic Colin MacCabe; Pasolini’s 1975 article “Trilogy of Life Rejected”; excerpts from Pasolini’s Berlin Film Festival press conference for The Canterbury Tales; and a report from the set of Arabian Nights by critic Gideon Bachmann
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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.