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on 13 April 2005
One of Pasolini's trilogy of explorations of the medium of storytelling and spoken narrative ("Canterbury Tales" and "Decameron" are the other pair), "Arabian Nights" is the most integrated and coherent of the three. It follows a theme of lust, love, and loss. A slave girl, Zumarud, is empowered to choose her own master - she chooses a youth, gives him the money to buy her, and the pair of them set up home together.
Only he loses her through greed and naivety. He sets out to find her, and the film follows their many adventures and the adventures of those people whose lives they touch. The film is presented in a series of vignettes rather than as a single storyline. In Burton's translation of the 1001 Arabian Nights, King Shahryar believes that all women are inherently unfaithful, and murders each new wife after the wedding night until Scheherazade enters his life. Each night she buys her life by recounting another story, enrapturing the king.
There is no Scheherazade here, but themes of betrayal and greed run through the film. In the main, the setting is in the desert or Arab villages rather than a king's palace. It is a celebration of the beauty of youth and their innocent sexual energy. In one vignette, an old man seduces three youths, in another, a caravan train picks up a young man and young woman and introduces them to one another.
The acting is amateurish and clumsy, but that enhances the eroticism in places - there is none of the confident, rehearsed choreography of the professional here. And yet the sex is passionless, static, unreal. This is a manipulative world where the weak and the naïve are exposed to others who will routinely lie, cheat, steal, and use one another. This is a world in which men have to have love explained to them by women. This is a world of animal instincts mediated and civilised by the use of language.
The visual imagery is stunning, though much of the setting is either desert or bleached out, white or sandy buildings. Only an occasional splash of colour is permitted. The imagery, then, is of an architectural quality, the settings framing the litheness and suppleness of the youthful human body. Again, the eroticism is understated but implicit.
And the characters who pass across the screen tell tales or recite poetry. The tales flow into vignettes or little sub-plots, then drift back to the main theme again. This is the story-telling tradition as popular communication and as explanation. The story is told that ... and people live awaiting the story to unfold, waiting for the moment when the story comes true. The story is told that a man shall cross the desert and become king of the walled city ... .
The beautiful Zumarud finally finds herself mistaken for a man and is made king of the desert city. Men are now her slaves and she has absolute power. This is the absolute power which Scheherazade strove to wield, the power to enrapture, to capture the minds and imaginations of men. Only Scheherazade slaved to capture the king's attention and love by telling fantasies - Zumarud enslaves men by fulfilling their own fantasies. Women, it seems, are not unfaithful - men are deceived by their own thoughts and expectations.
Pasolini creates a story within a story within a story. Each person has a story to tell, but how many others will listen? Are the stories we tell truth or fiction? Can we recognise our own truths? Are the stories meant to inform, to entrance, to entertain, or to deceive. For ultimately, of course, Scheherazade deceives and manipulates her husband as she instrumentally sets out to save her own life by telling him stories. Who can blame her?
Pasolini's "Arabian Nights" is a sumptuous, meandering narrative which will entertain and amuse.
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on 10 August 2009
Pasolini's first two adaptations of stories covering rough, raunchy Medieval life include The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. This one, Il Fiore Delle Mille e Una Notte - loosely translated to Arabian Nights - is visually the richest and probably the most disturbing. Rather than following the plots of each tale in sequence, the narrative moves through a series of incidents and consequences, gradually building up a sumptuous tapestry of Arabian mysteries and legends.

The central theme - a poor boy seeking his first and only love who has been kidnapped - runs throughout the film while surrounding narratives gain strength and intensity as the piece builds. The film was shot in Iraq, Yemen and Nepal, providing exactly the right atmosphere for tales of djinns, robbers, princesses and slaves. You can almost smell the sandalwood and hear the swoosh of flying carpets as you view desert scenes, desolate Arabian coasts and Medieval castles and tenements, apparently build from mud and sand.

Pasolini worked in the 60s and 70s - a liberated era when inhibitions were few and religious sensibilities were less delicate than today. Anyone who finds nudity offensive - particularly male, and in considerable detail - might find this film offensive. It is by no means pornographic, however. The sex scenes, such as they are, tend to be rather insipid but the language and visual material that precedes them is sensual, playful often erotic. The stories show love in all its manifestations, both sexual and otherwise. An enjoyable and thought-provoking film which, with the other two, make a great trilogy from 70s Italian cinema.
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Docudrama, piece of social anthropology or just a surreal film; combines all three into a kaleidoscope of displays. Not for your average Joe however.

Fly on the wall, sumptuous presentation as this sucks on the end and pulls you through the flyscreen and then drops you somewhere between some time in the past, stretching from the biblical to medieval. The cities, are obviously current to the era this was filmed...somewhere over the rainbow lies an untouched land. Evokes the early christian higgledy piggledy building structures of baked clay and tapestry, a type of urban planning ordered grid system nightmare. Here it creates some other world away from the bland European home.

The main protagonists are a female black slave and a young whiter boy, naive to the point of foolishness and then stretching it even beyond that. The world revolves around the sensuality of the woman who makes the mistake of insulting the more powerful of men, setting off a chain of events. The catalyst of the story, but not the whole focus, as Passolini wants to show the Dyonisian spirit of two horned lust. No pornographic viewing, as the sex is clumsy rather than staged porn penetrations.

Sexual bachanal is the main focus and the pounding of human emotions in a world where sex has no barriers, is aptly depicted. Incorporating all forms of human to human bodily contact, this traverses the ancient Islamic world to portray the perfumed gardens of figs and pomegranetes being spliced by ripe bananas, as cloven petals are gently and rudely plucked throughout. All infused with humour at the human condition.

No Caligula or Salo, this builds on the vapid ether of entering another richly emotionally laden world where sex has few inhibitions, except being boundaried by love and the corresponding inability to connect emotionally.

A beautifully shot film, a series of portraits, capturing an era being replaced with Adidas, manchester united shirts, TV soaps and radical Islam. Here it has the sumptous simplicity of an ideal world, apart from the slavery. Passolini shows the dimensions to a bisexual social world.

A great film brimming with an other worldliness, although set in the basic world of Yemen/Iran. It is not rivetting, but just deeply captivating.
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on 6 May 2009
this is a MAJOR improvement! First it's Anamorphic, also sharper and with better color balance. I assume the Blue-Ray Ed. is even better; these comments refer to the standard DVD edition.
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on 3 March 2005
Having never knowingly seen a Pasolini movie before, I'm not a dedicated Pasolini fan, but even I can appreciate Arabian Nights for its authenticity and unembellished storytelling. Arabian Nights was made in a time before the special effects we take for granted these days came into being. Nevertheless, the storytelling remains strong enough to carry you through the movie. It doesn't follow a traditional Hollywood linear story-pattern, but is instead a mosaic of stories and therefore has a fragmentary feel to it. The movie doesn't follow the traditional Arabian Nights stories we've come to expect - there are no genies, flying carpets, Ali Baba or magic lanterns - but a collage of interlocking stories that reveal themselves rather like a Chinese magic-box. The movie starts with a simple enough tale of Narmud, a young man, who purchases Zaramud, a beautiful young slave girl, whom he falls in love with, and who is kidnapped. Narmud runs tearfully from one location to another in search of his true love. The movie progresses seemlessly into its multiplicity of tales with such ease that you're left breathless by the circumstances that gave rise to the interwoven tales. In spite of the dated effects and sometimes amateurish acting, Arabian Nights is still an eclectic visual feast that bravely introduces its 1974 audiences to a distinctly non-European worldview.
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on 18 April 2013
This was the only film in Pasolini's trilogy that I had not seen on it's release. Although good, and worth seeing if you are a fan of The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, I felt that Arabian Nights was the weeker of the three. I feel the humour let it down.
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on 4 May 2015
Glad i watched this as i've been wanting to for a long time. It is not as visually sumptious or sexy as i had expected and the story is a bit so-so. Still a must see for lovers of this genre. The costumes and sets are amazing!
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on 16 October 2001
At last, Pasolini's beautifully-photographed tale of love, lust and vengeance gets the release it deserves in this country. Previously only available in murky VHS in Italy, this is a sparkling transfer of a striking film - and completely uncut! I have two quibbles - the lack of extras - there are at least two deleted scenes, one of which was available in the 80s on a compilation Morricone video. Although without sound, it had Morricone's hauntingly minimalist score attached. Pity it couldn't have been added to this otherwise excellent release. The second quibble is the sometimes too-bright or too-grainy transfer. But these are only quibbles - this is a must-have for Pasolini fans or those who appreciate fine cinema.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 February 2012
This is possibly Pasolini's greatest film, I think, it is so lyrical and breathtaking in every way. The interleaving of its many tales is fascinating and makes it exemplary of a certain kind of story-telling on screen, because the beauty seems bound up with the sense of many narratives. But there are other forms of beauty too - the characters are almost uniformly ravishing, and the landscapes amazing (it was shot in Eritrea, I think). Not forgetting the various objects which have a look of great value and authenticity. The tales are extremely vivid and fresh, and often funny. The two main characters, Nur-e-Din and his beloved Zumurrud, whom he spends most of the film trying to find, are absolutely delightful - Franco Merli's smile is one in a million! - and the sensuality of the film is irresistible. It really does amaze the eye and quicken the senses, almost as if you had been to those places and could smell the air ...
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on 17 October 2003
Pasolini has proved himself a master of adaptation - if only the term wasn't so pitiably insufficient to describe his achievement. The films Pasolini based on canonical classics (Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales, Decameron, Oedipus Rex, Salo, The Gospel according to St Matthew, etc.) are full-scale intertextual responses and contextualisations. The political element may be more pronounced in The Gospel or the notorious Salo than in the Trilogy of Life (of which the Arabian Nights is part), but still the relevance of Pasolini's narrative is visible throughout. All Pasolini's films are, albeit in various degrees, episodic and fragmented - like the century and the society that produced them. The Decameron is a biting satire as much as Salo is terrifying in its power to absorb the viewer into a sort of complicity with the victimiser. The Arabian Nights reverses the gruelling horror of Salo: it is an Edemic space, where paradisal bodies lead lives of pure bliss or pure sorrow - purity, not absolute mirth is the quintessence of Pasolini's cinematic discourse. The body's are paradisal precisely because they are unabashedly imperfect: in the Arabian Nights, Pasolini exorcises the pretentious artificiality of modern image as much as he creates a fresh new narrative medium by appealing back to the sources.
The DVD provides high quality image, but few extras. The price is higher than necessary.
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