(Il Fiore della Mille e una Notte)
Arabian Nights was another of Pier Paolo Pasolinis sexualised reworkings of the classics. It is a striking and beautiful film. It is certainly unlike any other film version of the Arabian Nights. Most notably, Pasolini has abandoned the wraparound structure of the original tales, which every other screen adaptation has retained of having Scheherazade as narrator, coming up with a new tale each night to entertain the sultan in order to stave off the threat of losing her head. This version is still episodic in nature but much more free-flowing. If anything it resembles the loose structure of The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), which consisted of a tapestry of tales interwoven with one another, including stories within other stories. As expected of a Pasolini film, this version is also frankly sexual, with a good deal of casual full frontal nudity from both sexes.
The most lovely of the tales is the story of Aziz who on the day of his marriage to his cousin Aziza is tempted by a mystery woman and postpones his marriage as he becomes fascinated with her beauty and enigma and keeps returning to Aziza to interpret the clues that the other woman gives him, each helping him get closer, only to ignore the longsuffering love that Aziza has for him. The episode is near perfect in its conjuration of a haunting mystery and the sense of a fairytale where notions like love are pure and absolute. Some of the other episodes are weaker especially the episode where the kings son Yunan gets inspiration to go to an island and slay a copper warrior, the island sinks, he finds himself naked and alone on another island and comes across a boy in an underground vault who has been placed there for protection against the prophecy of a blind man that will slay him, only for Yunan to realise that he is the destined killer. While the set-up works, the ending feels awkward, as we are never dramatically given any particular reason why the prince suddenly turns and kills the boy.
Arabian Nights is beautifully filmed. While most other screen adaptations of the Arabian Nights and its milieu The Thief of Bagdad (1940), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) et al opt for a studio-bound version of Arabia that has almost become its own cliche, Pasolini prefers to go outdoors and shoot the real thing, or at least the modern-day equivalent thereof. The film was shot in an impressive range of international locales Ethiopia, Yemen, Nepal and pre-revolution Iran not exactly countries that are at the top of the list as destinations that filmmakers flock to. The result provides an extraordinarily naturalistic feel. Pasolini covers both the peasantry in the market-places, the nomads of the desert and the surrounding cultural detail, as well as goes to visit a series of extraordinarily lavish palaces it is hard to tell exactly what is location and what is a set. It is as though the film is taking place in the real Arabia, not a studio-dressed one, even at the same time as Pasolini retains a distinct fairytale atmosphere.
While Pasolini does a beautiful job charting the naturalism of his milieu, he is more awkward when it comes to the fantasy elements, which are few. The demon story has a captivating brutality to it as we see the demon casually chopping apart the woman he holds prisoner but the demon itself only looks like a man in body paint and the scenes with it flying contain some unconvincing special effects.
Pier Paolo Pasolinis other ventures into genre material include:- Teorema (1968) about an enigmatic Christ-like visitor who overturns the lives of an upper-class family after seducing all of them; the strange and incomprehensible Porcile (1969), one story of which concerns the activities of a cannibal; Medea (1969), derived from a classic play retelling the story of Jason and the Argonauts; and the extremely controversial Marquis de Sade adaptation Salo or 120 Days of Sodom (1975), which was banned in a number of countries.
Other adaptations of Arabian Nights include:- Universals pedestrian Arabian Nights (1942) with Sabu, Jon Hall and Maria Montez; A Thousand and One Nights (1945) with Cornel Wilde; the Japanese tv series Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad (1975); the French 1001 Nights/Scheherazade (1990) with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Scheherazade; and the lush Hallmark tv mini-series Arabian Nights (2000) with Mili Avital as Scheherazade; as well as distaff animated parodies such as 1001 Arabian Nights (1959) featuring Mr Magoo and Scooby Doo in Arabian Nights (1974).
Trailer here (poor quality video transfer):-
Full film available online here:-