When Pasolini, disgusted with the fatted values of post-war capitalism in Italy, was dreaming up an alternative in his late Trilogy, he found the imagery he needed in old collections of stories, and made The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron and The Arabian Nights. By turning from the uncanny, contemporary metaphysics of a film like Theorem, he was making common cause with the vulgar imagination and placing his hope in its vigour, in what he perceived to be its unabashed appetites and its laughter. The Arabian Nights, which sadly seems to have survived in this country only in a mutilated and dubbed print, is a period piece of Seventies hedonism. It opens with a jostling crowd in a souk in the Yemen and the auction of a slave girl; there follows much nudity, much touching and grinning in various combinations of partners, and under the aching desert moon, much passionate flesh. Some of the film is set in the jalousied interiors of Moorish bedrooms, or in desert cities such as Sana'a, with its towers of baked mud decorated with white scrolls and borders like piped icing. But on the whole, the freedoms of the flesh Pasolini dreams up take place in the open air, free of clothes or inhibitions - free of stone.
LRB 8 December 1994 | PDF Download