Nov 5, 2015

Pasolini's Arabian Nights: Homophobia and Nudity

Between 1971 and 1974, Italian filmmaker Piers Paolo Pasolini produced and directed three adaptions of famous Medieval stories.  The Arabian Nights (Il fiore delle Mille et una Notte) was the last, and the most ambitious, with filming locations in Yemen, Iran, and Nepal.  I saw it at an Italian Film Festival in college during the famous summer of 1981, and again a few days ago.

If you've seen the other two (The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales), this one will be familiar; most of the same actors, especially Pasolini's lover Ninetto Davoli (left) and his protege Franco Merli, whom he discovered working at a gas station in Sicily.

Some of the same annoying bits as in the previous movies: dozens of people sitting around singing for no reason; lengthy closeups of random people with bad teeth grinning idiotically at the camera; stories that merge into other stories, so you're never sure what you're watching.

Pasolini eschews the more familiar stories, like Aladdin and Ali Baba, to concentrate on Nur Ed Din (Franco Merli, left) who loses his favorite slave Zumurrud (Ines Pelligrini), and wanders around, crying and having erotic adventures while searching for her.

Inside that story is another, about Aziz (Ninetto Davoli), who depends on his girlfriend for advice on how to win The Girl of His Dreams.  It ends badly.

And a few others.  They're somewhat convoluted, but from what I can figure out:
A man tries to save a woman from a demon, but ends up being turned into an ape.
A man tries to save a boy from a prophecy, but ends up killing him.


It's all rather confusing and very, very heterosexist.  In spite of the frequent assertions that it's perfectly ordinary to prefer men to women, the only same-sex relationship is just hinted at, and ends in tragedy.  Otherwise there are about a dozen men and women in love with each other.

The last scene is rather annoyingly homophobic.  Zumurrud, disguised as a man, has become the king of a city-state.  When Nur Ed Din arrives, the King summon him and orders him to strip and prepare for a sexual act.  Nur Ed Din refuses and protests -- he doesn't swing that way -- but the King says that he must submit or die.  Then "he" reveals "himself" as Zumurrud. It's ok, Nur Ed Din won't have to do anything icky after all, and the boy and girl hug and kiss for a heterosexist conclusion.

That being said, this is by far the most boy-crazy of the trilogy.  There isn't as much female nudity, but every male character spends most of his screen time with his clothes off.  There are closeups of gigantic penises every five seconds. If you want to see Ninetto Davoli in a state of arousal, this is your chance.

I suggest watching with the sound or subtitles turned off, so you can skip the heterosexism and blatant homophobia of the gay director.