The Canterbury Tales (film)

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The Canterbury Tales
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Based on The Canterbury Tales 
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Starring Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli, Laura Betti, Pier Paolo Pasolini
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
West Germany 2 July 1972 (premiere at BIFF)
Italy 2 September 1972
USA 30 March 1980
Running time
122 minutes
110 min (reduced cut)
Country Italy
Language Italian/English

The Canterbury Tales (Italian: I racconti di Canterbury) is a 1972 Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini and based on the medieval narrative poem The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is the second film in Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life", the others being The Decameron and Arabian Nights. It won the Golden Bear at the 22nd Berlin International Film Festival.[1]

The adaptation covers eight of the 24 tales and contains abundant nudity, sex and slapstick humour. Many of these scenes are present or at least alluded to in the original as well, but some are Pasolini's own additions.

The film sometimes diverges from Chaucer. For example, "The Friar's Tale" is significantly expanded upon: where the Friar leads in with a general account of the archdeacon's severity and the summoner's corruption, Pasolini illustrates this with a specific incident which has no parallel in Chaucer. Two men are caught in an inn bedroom having sex. One is able to bribe his way out of trouble, but the other, poorer man is less fortunate: he is tried and convicted of sodomy — it does not occur to the judge that such an act cannot be committed by one person alone — and is sentenced to death. As a foretaste of Hell, he is burned alive inside an iron cage ("roasted on a griddle" in the words of one spectator) while vendors sell beer and various baked and roasted foods to the spectators.

In Pasolini's version of the fragmentary "Cook's Tale", Ninetto Davoli plays the role of Perkyn in manner clearly inspired by Charlie Chaplin.

This film featured Tom Baker, the famed Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who, in a small role, as one of the husbands of the Wife of Bath.

Plot summary[edit]

Near London, Oxford and Canterbury in the Middle Ages, stories and adventures of peasants, noblemen, clergy and demons are interwoven. In the first vignette of the film, the merchant Sir January loses his sight, allowing the bride to join with her young lover in secret. In the second story, the Devil ensures that two young peasants are killed by the arm of the Inquisition for their libertine pleasures. In the third, the fool Perkin is involved in an intrigue; he tries to find work, but his attempts ultimately wreak havoc in the city of Oxford. In the fourth story of two youths, Nicolas and Alison, seduce the wife of a carpenter, and when in danger of being caught, they pretend to be two visionaries who predicted the arrival of the new Flood. In the fifth, in the village of Bath, a matron marries Giannozzo; however, their happiness is short-lived. In the sixth story in Cambridge, two students spend fabulous nights with Molly, the wife of a miller. One night Molly, waiting to make love with each of the two boys, goes to bed believing that she is conversing with one of the youths, disclosing their secret. In fact, the one who is on the bed is the consort! In the seventh story three students, cruel in their actions, are achieved by an old man who predicts them to a bad end. Young guys do not get scared, but when the three ingest a poisoned wine, soon find themselves in the company of Gloomy Grim Reaper. In the eighth and final story, a pleasure-loving monk is trying to earn as much food in exchange for extreme unction to a dying man. That same night in the man's convent comes an angel, which leads him to Hell, to show him the terrible punishments that belong to the friars that subvert the message of Christ.

All the stories are linked to the arrival of a group of pilgrims to the shrine of Canterbury, among which there is the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (played by Pasolini himself), who during breaks in the pub with friends, writes and tells the stories, which have the purpose of moralizing and delight the audience.



  1. ^ "Berlinale 1972: Prize Winners". 

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