Arabian Nights (Pier Paolo Pasolini / Italy-France, 1974):
(Il Fiore delle Mille e Une Notte)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life" closes with this sumptuous Sherazade pastiche, a neverland idyll as ethereally celebratory as The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales were scatologically earthbound. "The truth lies not in one dream but in many" -- taking its cue from the opening axiom, the narrative achieves an extraordinary liquidity, with stories swimming in and out of each other even as they mold the overall structure into a fluid tapestry, as opposed to the more linear fresco format of the earlier entries. The main plot follows shy young Nur Ed Din (Franco Merli) as he searches for his beloved Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini), the mouthy slave who chose him as her master. Digressions abound along the way: Aziz (Ninetto Davoli) ditches his bride Aziza (Tessa Bouche) for a seductive succubus, an artist scrambles to free a maiden from a demon (Franco Citti), and so on. Destiny veers from rigid (Yunan cannot flee his assigned role as the murderer of a young boy) to arbitrary (narrowly escaping gang rape at the hands of the Forty Thieves, Zumurrud is mistaken for a man and crowned king of a city), though to Pasolini sex is the enlivening constant. In fact, despite the sporadic bloodletting, the film's folkloric hedonism is the closest the director has come to expressing an utopian vision (it's no coincidence that the setting is the farthest, both in time and space, from Pasolini's view of a corrupt Italy). The film's serenity enables Pasolini to luxuriate in the physical beauty of landscapes (the film was breathtakingly shot by Giuseppe Ruzzolini in North Africa and the Middle East), architecture, décor, faces and bodies, and, above all, the beauty of sex, both hetero and homo, untainted by shame or sin. Capping the narrative is Pasolini's most jubilant conclusion -- Nur Ed Din and Zumurrud, reunited at last, shedding not only their clothes but their social obligations (as master and servant, male and female) for an equality of almost radical simplicity. (Disturbing reminder: this vision of sexual harmony segues right into the pitiless degradation of Salň.) Music by Ennio Morricone.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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