Pasolini’s beautiful, erotically charged Arabian Nights took Cannes by storm in 1974 but all these years later it’s an almost forgotten film and the director seems to have fallen even further out of favour than fellow Italians Visconti, Fellini or Antonioni. Perhaps he’s gone so far out of fashion that he’s about to come back in via the back door. The film is definitely worth a look, being the third and best in his Trilogy of Life series. More completely than Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, Arabian Nights showcases Pasolini’s eye for unconventional beauty – both male and female. To get a taste of Islamic authenticity, Pasolini shot his handful of the 1001 nights in Iran and Yemen (with other sequences in Nepal and Ethiopia) – locations that still don’t get their shake of the stick even all these years later. The sense of place is as strong as Pasolini’s cod-medievalism is unorthodox and the influence of Arabian miniatures is everywhere. Arabian Nights, like the original book put together in the Islamic Golden Age, is a portmanteau affair and Pasolini’s selection of the many tales all run with themes of abduction and forced sexual congress. You won’t be surprised, on watching, to be told that Pasolini was very fond of young men – the film is chock full of cock. But it’s all shot, if that’s the word, in the best possible taste.
© Steve Morrissey 2013