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Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE DECAMERON (1971)

Italian literary agitator/provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini found international art house success serving up Boccaccio’s cruel comedy & bawdy behavior, gaining a welcome commercial bump from the evolving, less restrictive views on explicit nudity. (First erection in mainstream cinema?) Dispensing with Boccaccio’s storyteller (a sort of male Scheherezade), the nine chosen tales lean toward rude, crude & lewd in Pasolini’s heavy/overstated manner. ‘Cruel’ comes naturally to him; comedy & bawd, not so much. Taking the artist’s role of Giotto for himself, the rest is a mix of oddly-coiffed professionals & amateurs with odd teeth, each more annoyingly enthusiastic than the last. Had the film been done in English with decent synch-sound rather than poorly dubbed Italian, it’s rep would have sunk like a stone. But the real problem is, of course, PPP himself, that most unnatural of filmmakers. A few decent staging ideas come off during the church mural episode, but everywhere else, shot choice & editing is a hazard-course of missteps. (Must he set up every shot dead-center? Well, it does take your mind off the acting.) And when he goes for an artsy/frame-worthy comp, things come to a complete dead stop. Or rather, a series of fragmented dead stops. As in one of those late Roberto Rossellini ‘teaching’ films, the problem comes less from a lack of technique (the Nouveau Vague always celebrated Rossellini’s modest-to-a-fault skill set) than from contempt for process. As if craft would sully intellectual brilliance. As if, indeed.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Pasolini’s first & best pic, ACCATTONE/’61, had young Bernardo Bertolucci as creative wing-man, which must have made all the difference.

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