'The Decameron' is one Pasolini's trilogy of films ('Arabian Nights' and 'Canterbury Tales' are the others) exploring the role of the storyteller and the translation of this timeless vocal tradition into a cinematic one. The cinema has typically taken on board the format of the novel - it presents one central story, with maybe a couple of subplots, seen from the point of view of one of the protagonists or of a neutral onlooker. The storytelling tradition, however, while it might include epics like the 'Iliad', generally follows shorter stories, and often relates these to a specific moral.
Pasolini provides a cavalcade of tales exploring life and death, lust and sex, the materialism of the peasant world, the carnality of life. If there is a moral it is that sex and lust are blessings. Here, sex is presented as a political act - we all have ultimate political control over our own bodies; and here Pasolini explores the nature of belief, contrasting the real, physical, material world of sex and abandonment with the censorship and authoritarianism of religion. Pasolini was fascinated by the interaction of the Marxist and Catholic traditions within Italy ... and with the world of the traditional peasant before they became anachronisms with the growth of cities and the development of an industrialised economy.
'The Decameron' is set in a medieval world which embodies the traditional values of rough peasant sex, duplicity, and conflict with the moral certainties of the Church. We have nuns forsaking their vows of chastity, cuckolded husbands, a celebration of bodily functions. We have comedy, drama, music. It's lewd, it's bawdy, and there are bodies aplenty.
Here we have life, bounded by rules, but rules which are often pure hypocrisy. Pasolini prefers the vulgarity of peasant life and its flexible violation of rules - rules of law, rules of religion, rules of social structure and hierarchy. Guilt is created by the Church ... but can be exorcised by the simple expedient of confession. Surely the peasants are more honest in their human breaking of rules ... particularly sexual ones? He rejoices in their superstition, their ignorance, their selfishness and materialism.
It's a slow paced but exuberant celebration of life in the raw. The visual style is sumptuous in places, aping the colours of medieval art. Pasolini offers characters in his photography - the beautiful and the ugly people, using amateur actors to emphasise the lack of sophistication of the peasant world. His exploration of the nature of storytelling produces overlapping tableau after tableau, short tales which cut straight into the next and challenge the conventional structure of cinema.
It's engaging, it's entertaining, and it will make you laugh.