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The Canterbury Tales (3 stars)

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Made in 1971, the second of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s noted trilogy, The Canterbury Tales has much to admire about it, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of his earlier adaptation of The Decameron. The answer as to why this might be is contained within the DVD extras, which include a documentary about how the director’s vision of the innocence and intensity of sexual experience in The Decameron would soon after its release spawn an exploitation genre which Pasolini despised.

As a result, his rather freewheeling adaptation of Chaucer’s Middle English social commentaries, in which Pasolini plays no less than the author himself, brings a cynicism to its subject that was missing in the first film. A constant emphasis on voyeurism, with characters being peaked at in various states of undress through keyholes and windows might well be the director’s swipe back at the sleazier elements of his imitators but it does little for the emotional depth of the film.

Still, Chaucer’s bawdy humour is nicely captured in his saucy ‘Wife of Bath’ and ‘Miller’s Tale’ episodes of the film, and there’s a bleak interlude, more of Pasolini’s making than Chaucer’s, about the cynical exploitation of homosexuals by the long-separated cultures of both artists that can’t fail to horrify. The presence of Tom Baker, Jenny Runacre and Robin Askwith add a face-spotting element to watching the film.

(15) 107min (BFI Blu-ray/DVD retail)

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