The Trilogy Of Life

The Trilogy Of Life (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1971-1974)

The Decameron / Il Decameron (1971)

The Canterbury Tales / I racconti di Canterbury (1972)

Arabian Nights / Il fiore delle mille e una notte / A Thousand and One Nights (1974)

Coming quite late in the career of renowned Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, the TRILOGY OF LIFE is something of a standout. Each of the films, particularly the first two, exhibit a level of playfulness and a joy for life that is missing from other films in the director’s ouvre. Based on a collection of renowned short stories each film unfolds as a series of vignettes. Though each comprises a selection of brief narratives, there are recurring themes that arise throughout the individual films and the trilogy as a whole: attitudes towards loyalty and devotion, fidelity, death, materialism and greed, sexuality and sexual awakening all feature frequently. Many would argue that these are themes common to other, if not all the director’s films, but it is the execution that is refreshingly different: the trilogy is a celebration of life and it oozes a sense of optimism and romanticism. A far cry from the cynical and pessimistic world view seen in much of Pasolini’s other work. This thematic detour would be short lived however, with Pasolini completing just one other feature before his death in 1975. His last film would be SALO, a film so nihilistic it would at first appear to be the work of a completely different filmmaker.

Marking Pasolini’s first foray into the TRILOGY OF LIFE, and based on a collection of stories written by Giovanni Boccaccio during the medieval era, THE DECAMERON is a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the director’s work. The film is a visually-sumptuous treat, with Pasolini here aided by the formidable talents of production designer Dante Ferretti (Fellini’s art director of choice) and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, renowned for his collaborations with Sergio Leone on the likes of THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Of the numerous stories Pasolini selected from the Boccaccio tome all are captivating and there’s never a point as a vignette unfolds that you’re willing it to finish for the next one to start. Of the stories in THE DECAMERON, the standouts include one in which a young man (sporting a hairstyle that would do David Hess proud) is swindled by a female aristocrat, literally landing himself in the shit, and the chilling tale of brothers who decide to defend the virtue of their younger sister.

The recently released Blu-ray from BFI looks great. The anamorphic transfer looks nice for the most part with a very stable image that is free of print damage and artefacting. Colours look a little muted but this is not a hindrance. There is some grain also present in darker scenes but again this does not distract. Sound on the Italian version is well served, and while the monaural track isn’t the type of mix to rock the world of audiophiles, it’s a perfect preservation of what Pasolini originally intended. The BFI has also added several features of merit: these include the director’s hour-long documentary NOTES FOR AN AFRICAN ORESTES (which documents an ill-fated production of ORESTES Pasolini had intended to make in Africa); the original trailer and an English language version of the film. The latter ‘extra’ is to be avoided, as the dubbing is simply horrendous. Its inclusion seems due to the BFI wanting to cater for the ignoramuses that can’t be bothered to read subtitles. That said, a lot of potential fun could be derived from watching the film dubbed in English whilst knocking back a few beers, so it shouldn’t be written off completely. Also included is an excellent booklet featuring a review and essay on the film.

It’s a tough call but THE CANTERBURY TALES is probably the best film in the trio. Once again, the writer/director collaborated with cinematographer Delli Colli and production designer Ferretti, and both films are fairly similar in look, albeit for the different locations that were used during filming. This time however, it is the writing of 15th Century author Geoffrey Chaucer that becomes the basis for another anthology of brisk tales, with the events unfolding in England. The reason why this film struck a particular chord with me is that with the exception of one—which seemed to homage the films of Charlie Chaplin–every other vignette is wonderful. Once again, there’s a great balance between the light-hearted and the sinister, and highlights from THE CANTERBURY TALES include a short that details the extraordinary lengths a young man will go to get a married woman into bed; another where the tables are turned on a miller who seeks to con a pair of horny students and a dark, creepy piece in which three young tearaways meet Death.

Like the film, the transfer for the BFI’s Blu-ray is also the pick of the bunch. Colours are far more vibrant than those seen in THE DECAMERON or ARABIAN NIGHTS and there’s also a level of detail in the image that also improves upon those of the other two. Again, there is some grain present in darker scenes but this is a very minor quibble. Like that of the BFI’s THE DECAMERON Blu-ray the sound is presented in Italian with excellent English subtitling. Moving onto the disc’s supplements, we’re once again given the alternative English language soundtrack, the original theatrical trailer and another extensive booklet. Best of all–and even I’m tiring of the praise I’m bestowing on this particular disc–this release features an all-new documentary that focuses on how, in making the TRILOGY OF LIFE, Pasolini inadvertently kick-started a quick succession of lurid imitations. The documentary, which was co-produced by the BFI and Severin, features interviews with Pasolini’s biographer, film historians and even some of those responsible for making the rip-off pictures, including Luciano Martino. The documentary runs for a little over 35 minutes but manages to encapsulate perfectly the era in which the films were made, the films they spawned and the negative effect the “sequels” had on Pasolini.

Pasolini would conclude the trilogy with ARABIAN NIGHTS, and once again he turned to a collection of renowned writings: this time seeking inspiration from One Thousand And One Nights. The film marked something of a departure from the proceeding films for a number of reasons. For a start, the film’s exotic locations—which include Ethiopia, Yemen and Iran, to name but a few—are completely different to those seen in THE DECAMERON and THE CANTERBURY TALES. Secondly, Giuseppe Ruzzolini–who had worked with Pasolini previously on a number of films including OEDIPUS REX and TEOREMA–replaced Tonino Delli Colli as cinematographer. Both of these elements conspire to create a completely different look, one that has a distinctly Eastern feel.

The structure of ARABIAN NIGHTS is different too. While the recurring story strands were common to both THE DECAMERON and THE CANTERBURY TALES there was more of an emphasis on the short stories between. In ARABIAN NIGHTS it is the vignettes that serve as interlude to a longer narrative: the plot concerns a young man on a quest to locate his abducted love. The “wrap-around” narrative is the heart of the film but this story segues into independent vignettes throughout. Pasolini lays out his structural intentions very early on in the film and there is even a quote that follows the credits that reflects his decision to choose a different approach: “Truth lies not in one dream, but in many dreams” – a passage taken directly from the original source material and one that alludes to the fact that each of the vignettes enhance the narrative of the longer story. Of the shorter stories in ARABIAN NIGHTS, the most memorable are one where a groom becomes infatuated with another woman on the day of his wedding and another that involves a man who battles a demon for the possession of a young girl’s soul.

The biggest difference however is that of the films tone. While ARABIAN NIGHTS is not without humour it’s almost completely bereft of the playfulness that was evident in the earlier films. The shift into darker terrain is all the more interesting when you look at where the film sits in the director’s filmography. Made immediately after THE CANTERBURY TALES and directly before SALO, it’s fair to say that the viewer can clearly see the transition Pasolini is making as a filmmaker. Though ARABIAN NIGHTS never delves into the depths of depravity seen in SALO, the material is a lot edgier than that seen in THE DECAMERON and THE CANTERBURY TALES.

The presentation on the BFI’s Blu-ray in on a par with that of THE DECAMERON; colour fidelity is fine but the image is never quite as detailed as that seen on the disc for THE CANTERBURY TALES. The Italian audio is perfectly acceptable and the subtitling excellent. Special features on the disc include the alternative English language version of the film, the trailer and a wealth of deleted scenes. Once again, there is also a lavish booklet included. It is apparent from watching the discs that the BFI has put a lot of effort into these releases and one really couldn’t wish for the films to have been given better treatment.

THE TRILOGY OF LIFE is essential viewing that works on many levels. A series of films that are of that rare breed of cinema: one that manages to work on an intellectual level without alienating those that enjoy having fun. The films have endured the years that have passed since release well and have become seminal pictures that can be credited for creating a whole new genre of film. Without the then censor-baiting THE DECAMERON, there would have never have been the imitations, and without them, it’s fair to say that the explosion in Italian sex comedies wouldn’t have happened either. Due to the rising popularity of the sex comedies in Italy and being disgusted by the general public’s reaction to them there, Pasolini would later disown the TRILOGY OF LIFE, devastated that his work had been misinterpreted. Considering the amount of passion and care that went into the films’ making, this is a shame, but Pasolini would channel his dissatisfaction and contempt for popular culture into his swan song, SALO. As mentioned earlier in this review, it’s interesting to see how this trilogy of films contrasts with SALO and it’s clear that ARABIAN NIGHTS was made after the director became disenchanted with what he had been doing. Pasolini was murdered shortly before the release of SALO in 1975. Before his death he had indicated that it was to have been the first in a series of new films to be known as his TRILOGY OF DEATH. Considering how the tone and themes of TRILOGY OF LIFE segue into those of SALO, it would have been fascinating to see how he would have continued the association. We’ll never know.

(Paul Alaoui)

 

Ernesto Gastaldi Talks to lovelockandload

Ernesto Gastaldi is a name intrinsically linked to the genesis of Italian cinema during the sixties and seventies. A screenwriter and occasional filmmaker with well over a hundred credits to his name, and a frequent collaborator with stalwarts of cinema such as Sergio Leone, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino, Ernesto’s contribution to the world of Eurocult is extremely significant. In an exclusive lovelockandload interview, Kim August asked Ernesto to shed some light on his involvement in the making of some of Italy’s most exciting genre films.

It’s rumoured the shooting of THE HORRIBLE SECRET OF DR HICHCOCK was running over schedule. So director Riccardo Freda literally tore out pages of the screenplay to get the film back on track. What was eliminated from the script? And do you feel this act compromised your original concept?

As I’ve told many times, Freda was a genius. He tore out 8 or 9 pages of the script, but not only for schedule problem, but he wanted to cancel a dialogue where there was the explanation of the mystery.

He asked my permission and I laughed “This way all becomes incomprehensible!” Freda smirked, saying “That is exactly what I want!”

In another interview you touched on your involvement in the writing of Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. From what I understand, it was a film that was long in gestation. Can you elaborate on what you brought to the project?

Not so much because Sergio and the last writers changed a lot. I wrote a big treatment following the novel a little more. Sergio kept my scenes about the adolescence of the little gangsters.

I protested with Sergio when I saw the boy eating the candy because he was FAT! That was wrong! The boy had to be very hungry and slim.

You also collaborated on two of the Italian westerns Leone produced – MY NAME IS NOBODY and A GENIUS TWO PARTNERS AND A DUPE – what was your working relationship with Leone like? Did it differ from those that you had with other filmmakers of the time?

Completely different. I wrote these two scripts at home by night, but every days for months I have to go to Sergio’s home to read the new scenes and discuss them. Frequently Sergio invited directors, journalists, friends and he played in detail the scenes, always beginning from the first one: ” A red sunset. Three men on horses are drawing near and nearer… clop, clop, clop…” to spy the faces of the people: interested? bored? I was probably the less bored, since Sergio was a great storyteller.

During the seventies you were involved in the writing of many of the police thrillers that were popular of the time. Did any of these projects require you to be on set and if so, what are your memories of stars such as Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Maurizio Merli and Luc Merenda?

Sorry. I was not on set, in those days I had always too much to write. I met these actors, sometime at home, or in the Carlo Ponti’s office , or chez Martino. I have a great memory of Giancarlo Giannini because he made his debut as movie actor in LIBIDO, that was also my debut as director!

In your gialli, Less is more. Less violence, more sex.  Were  you writing for your own tastes, the censors, the audience?

When the first character was Edwige Fenech I have to put on my script almost 3 scenes of shower… Joking aside, I like thrillers with a big emotional involvement and sex is a strong one.

You had a wonderful run with Sergio Martino, gialli, crime, science fiction. What was your working relationship like?

A good friendship lasting even now. Sergio Martino is a very good director, greater than the movies he, too often, had to direct.

What is your favorite screenplay and/or film with Sergio Martino?

MILANO TREMA: LA POLIZIA VUOLE GIUSTIZIA.

Some of my favorite elements in your thrillers revolve around the stalking of the protagonist by the villain(s) (TORSO, THE LONELY, VIOLENT BEACH, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK) –  you’ve mentioned writing 20 gialli in three years you had to constantly push yourself to do something more than the previous film? How difficult was this?

Just a little. I amused myself writing this kind of plot! I also wrote some thriller novels, before becoming a screenwriter.

I won an award in 1957 with a comedy called A COME ASSASSINO (many years after someone made a movie from it). In 1955 I managed to be selected at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia di Roma because I wrote an amateur movie, a thriller named LA STRADA CHE PORTA LONTANO, very appreciated by the great director Alessandro Blasetti.

Torso foreshadowed many of the slasher films in the late 70s/early 80s. What are your feelings on this?

I didn’t realise it. (That the film had been so influential – Ed)

Which actors do you feel performed your works the best?

Mara Maryl, Giancarlo Giannini, Marcello Mastroianni, Sofia Loren, Alan Collins, Barbara Steele, Giuliano Gemma, Terence Hill, Henry Fonda, Jack Palance, Anthony Quinn and others.

I thought Robert Hoffmann was an excellent choice for the lead biker in your film THE LONELY, VIOLENT BEACH. Your thoughts on Hoffmann and the film?

Oh yes! he was a great choice. That was a very low budget movie, but I like it.

During the course of your career you have been involved with the writing films covering all the staples of popular Italian cinema: peplums, gialli, crime films, science fiction, westerns, etc? Of these, was there a particular genre you were happiest working in?

I’d like to write, and even, direct science fiction, but it was really impossible for decades. I wrote a plot very similar to BACK TO THE FUTURE 20 years before , located in Italy. The protagonist traveled to the past and, during the second world war, when Mussolini was the chief of Italy, met two very poor girls in Naples, two sisters, one of those named Sofia… He told to a friend: “Look at them: one will married the Mussolini’s son! But the real incredibly thing is that that marriage will be very popular because of the other sister, who will become the most great movie star of the world!”

I named the script THE END OF ETERNITY. Nobody gave it the green light!

SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL stands out amongst your work as it transcends genre: while essentially a crime film, it has elements of the sentimental dramas and the erotic movies popular in Italy at the time. What were your motivations when you were writing?

I think… the money! Luciano Martino suggested the story to me. He was the producer.

‘Hands Of Steel’ is considered to be the Italian reaction to James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’. How was the original concept developed, and what are your thoughts on the film’s stars, David Greene and Janet Agren?

I think I never saw this movie. I only wrote a part of the script.

Same question but about 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK, and star Michael Sopkiw.

I like this movie, even if it was a kind of SF not particularly loved by me. The movie had been made because of the big success of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. I think Sopkiw was quite good.

Tell us about one of your first films as a director, CIN… CIN… CIANURO!. Why was it that the film received scant distribution to the point that very few people have seen it?

My debut was LIBIDO (1965) starring Mara Maryl, Giancarlo Giannini, Alan Collins and Dominique Boschero. Now this very little movie is a cult movie among fans. I was also co-producer of LIBIDO and this movie has been also the argument of my thesis of my baccalaureat in Economy!

CIN… CIN… CIANURO! was a very brilliant comedy, played very well by Mara Maryl and Brad Harris. Unfortunately the distributor, LUX FILM, went bankrupt.

The making of popular films in Italy was at its most prolific during the sixties and seventies before going into decline in the eighties. What are your thoughts on why this came to be?

TV broadcasting. Mr. Berlusconi had all free public TV frequencies stolen paying a bribe to the former premier Bettino Craxi and started broadcasting three movies a day on “his” three new networks! Not only the movie industry declined , the democracy too…

Do you feel the lack of stories are the undoing of today’s films?

I don’t like very much the new Italian cinema, with rare exception like IL DIVO.  Now the current fashion is to put a boring speaker who tell you a big part of the story and to cut the plot muddling up the scenes. Maybe PULP FICTION has been the first offender.

Given that you have been involved in the writing of well over a hundred different films, which are those that you consider to be seminal or you are the most proud to have been a part of making?

I’m very proud that I has been able to write two hundred scripts (117 of them made into feature films!) having three children playing around and the TV set always on! Joking aside, I like very much LIBIDO starring Mara Maryl and Giancarlo Giannini, LA PUPA DEL GANGSTER starring Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, I GIORNI DELL’IRA starring Giuliano Gemma and  Lee Van Cleef, IL MIO NOME E’ NESSUNO starring Henry Fonda and Terence Hill, MILANO TREMA starring Luc Merenda and Richard Conte, LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO starring Daliah Lavi and Cristopher Lee, LA BATTAGLIA DI  EL ALAMEIN starring George Hilton, Fredrick Stafford, Robert Hossein, NOTTURNO CON GRIDA, starring Mara Maryl, Gerardo Amato, L’UOVO DEL CUCULO starring Malisa Longo, Vassili Karamesinis, CRIMINE CONTRO CRIMINE starring Marina Giulia Cavalli, Adalberto Maria Merli, Giorgio Albertazzi, Francesco Benigno.

Interview conducted via email February 2009 by Kim August.

Once Upon a Time in America Redux

Sergio Leone’s ill-treated mob movie classic is heading back to the Cannes Film Festival this year in an all-new incarnation. The film has been painstakingly restored from the original negatives and includes a whopping 40 minutes of additional footage.

A labour of love that’s been over a year in the making, the project will be finally unveiled at France’s most prestigious annual event – a fitting debut for the longer cut, as it was in Cannes where the film was initially screened 28 years ago. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA would sadly become director Leone’s swansong, as his long-gestating World War II epic, LENINGRAD, never got off the ground before his death in 1989 (though the film is currently in pre-production and cameras are set to roll for director Guiseppe Tornatore [CINEMA PARADISO] later this year).

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is something of a departure from the Italian westerns with which Leone made his name and is the epic tale of a group of young Jewish boys who become embroiled in New York’s criminal underworld during the prohibition era.  Leone’s film is a sprawling masterpiece but its American distributor, the Ladd Company (who had similarly interfered with Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER), was of the opinion that it was too long and its non-linear structure too confusing, insisting on cuts totaling almost an hour and a half before its release. The film fared better in Europe where it was released in a version that ran for 3 ¾ hours (the version that is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video) but stories have persisted of longer cuts and missing footage for many years.

At present it is not exactly clear what the new material consists of and no announcement has been made relating to a home video release of the longer cut (though it is inevitable). I guess we’ll have to wait until the reviews following the Cannes screening begin to filter through next month.