Moviegoers have a tremendous opportunity to see several great works by gay filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini on the big screen this month. A mini-retrospective offers early films such as Mamma Rosa, Madea, and The Decameron at the Castro Theatre on Saturday, September 14, while the Roxie will screen Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Arabian Nights, and The Canterbury Tales on Sunday, September 15.
After the 4:00 pm show of Mamma Rosa, actor Ninetto Davoli will introduce Medea at 6:30 pm at the Castro. He will also introduce the 9:30 pm show of The Decameron, which is the first film in Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life.” This is an adaption of stories by Bocaccio, with Davoli appearing in an early sequence as Andreucchio, a rich horse buyer duped by a woman into thinking she’s his sister. When he spends the night, her trick is revealed, and he escapes broke, covered in feces, and nearly naked. When he is “rescued” by thieves promising to help him regain the wealth he lost, Andreucchio gets into another scrape, before a satisfying ending.
Most of the comic-ironic tales in The Decameron have the characters employing trickery—from a wife who dupes her husband to be serviced by her lover, to a young woman who lies to her parents to spend the night with her boyfriend. In addition, many episodes satirize the church. A segment about a man posing as a deaf mute to finagle his way into a convent, where he has sex with all of the nuns, is arguably the best. Pasolini seems to be in a playful mood here, and the filmmaker, who appears as the painter Giotto in one vignette, creates vivid imagery with bold costumes and splendid art design/direction.
Pasolini’s last and most notorious film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, screens at 2:00 pm and 9:45 pm on Sunday at the Roxie. Barth David Schwartz, author of Pasolini Requiem, will introduce the evening show. The film is set in northern Italy in 1944 during the Nazi/Fascist era. It is based on the works of the Marquis de Sade, and is as shocking and unsettling today as it was upon release. Four unnamed libertines/officials capture various young men and women and imprison them in a house where they strip them of all rights and clothes and use them as props in lewd acts (urophilia), humiliating contests (to see who has the perfect derriere), before severely mutilating them. A series of well-dressed older women recount crude tales of sexual abuse, scatology, and prostitution, while accompanied by a piano.
As the stories unfold, the male officials rape the youths, force them to eat excrement, and eventually burn and cut their bodies and faces. While the officials are all aroused and/or amused by the behavior—one man tells a bad joke whenever a character dies—Salò is obviously neither sexy nor funny. This depravity on display is still appalling and hard to watch, particularly the “Circle of S–t” sequence, which involves extensive coprophagia, and the finale in which many of the youths are subjected to torture. But these episodes resonate and emphasize Pasolini’s overarching statements about power corrupting absolutely. Furthermore, his commentary and depiction of voyeurism and deviance in society—from extreme religious worship and national allegiance, to fetishism and sadomasochistic practices—remain as powerful as ever.
Although Arabian Nights is the third film in Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life,” it shows first on Sunday at the Roxie, at 4:30pm. Actor Ninetto Davoli, who will do a post-screening Q&A, has a key role in the film as Aziz, a man who is engaged to his cousin, but finds love with other women, only to be betrayed. Arabian Nights is a series of interconnected love stories with either horrific or happy endings. The main plot concerns Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini), a slave who chooses Nur ed Din (Farnco Merli) as her master at an auction. Their romance, however, is short-lived, as he ignores her advice to avoid a blue-eyed man. Separated from his love/master, he seeks to reunite with Zumurrud, while various tales of fate unfold. There is magical realism—from cursed rice to a man who turns into a monkey—as well as stories featuring women posing as men, characters being corrupted, and individuals who meet their destiny despite efforts to protect themselves. Beautifully filmed in opulent locations, and in various countries, the erotic Arabian Nights is a fantastic film, in all senses of the word.
Davoli will also introduce the 7:15 pm screening of The Canterbury Tales, Pasolini’s earthy (re)-telling of eight of Chaucer’s twenty-four moral fables about greed and betrayal, sex and death. Davoli plays Perkin, a Chaplinesque figure in an amusing slapstick segment that is a highlight in the film. The second tale is notable for featuring sodomites, one of whom, because he is poor, is burned for his “crime.” While this is a dark story, most of the tales are bawdy and humorous. The naughtiest episode features a deceptive carpenter who suffers a painful revenge when his lover tricks a suitor with a “misplaced” kiss. The last vignette, about a friar, features Satan’s rear end literally defecating priests into Hell. It is among Pasolini’s most visually striking and satiric episodes. The filmmaker—who plays Chaucer here with a suitably wry smile—makes these erotic tales both enjoyable and memorable
© 2013 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.