A Historical Evaluation Of The Decameron Directed By Pier Paolo Pasolini

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

As an eminent historian, indicating the significance of filmic narrative of history, Bruno Ramirez emphasises that scholars, who must not be necessarily historians but other social, or pertinent disciplines, should not perceive historical films as only stories about past but also contemporary cultural outputs, intrinsic values of the directors and also the comprehension of the public. Therefore, it can be said that owing to the very nature of producing a sort of artifact such as a historical motion picture, for a pre-determined audience, which is not peculiar to historical films, historical films cannot be considered to be a branch of art that can present a non-distorted and manipulated historical narrative as the very historical sources cannot be.

However, concerning the drastic increase of the Tv’s and cinema’s influence on the public as a mass production, and the advancing techniques, utilised in the cinema sector, historical motion pictures has become a more competent tool for shaping the perception of people on knowable past, as compared to historical documents or books. In this regard, historical films’ capacity of being teachers of history for a massive audience has been debated by the historians and other social disciplines, fostering historical interpretation of the past. In this respect, while some of them as Paul B.Weinstein, assert that historical films have no responsibility to present the past as it was, Natalie Davis, as a prominent Early modern historian, espouses the idea of filming only daily life stories in order to provide the historical authenticity and credibility. Concerning daily life stories in historical films, the well known Italian director, poet, and also political actor during the years of WW2, Pier Paolo Pasolini and his film called ‘‘The Decameron’’ can be scrutinised from a historical perspective in search of historical authenticity and credibility. Nevertheless, contrary to what Davis thought on the usability of daily life stories, as the one can observe from Pasolini’s film, selecting particular stories, using allegories, placing invented or rather intervened characters, applying today’s contrasts and values to the past are also valid for daily life stories which can harm the authenticity and credibility of the historical narrative like a written source can do. 

Concerning the well-thought selection of Pasolini’s 9 stories out of 100 stories of Giovanni Boccaccio, it can be said that the stories he chose for his historical film as an adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s book called ‘‘Decameron’’, were compatible with his world view in general. In this respect, as a well-known Marxist, atheist and homosexual director, which are probably incomplete and problematic because of the inconsistent meaning of the notions, he was inclined to adapt the stories, pertinent to the daily life and underdog people. In this respect, these kinds of stories in Boccaccio’s book constitute approximately 30 per cent of the total amount of the stories, which generally include higher class and status people such as princes, kings, and gentry. Having a better understanding of the story preferences of Pasolini, the taken attitude of Pasolini’s towards lower classes and upper classes in a particular interview can be considered as an epitome of his general perspective, congruous with his other interviews. In particular, at the interview, taking place with Enzo Biagi in 1971, which coincided with the release of the film, he emphasised his love for the illiterate and poor ones owing to the fact that they are independent of the culture of bourgeoisie and upper classes, which are deceptive.

However, in spite of the non-existence of kings and princes, there are some particular figures that can be considered as relatively the member of upper classes like merchants and clergymen, who were represented as destructors of the public harmony and solidarity. In this respect, Pasolini’s two selected story shows a priest trying to have sexual intercourse with a poor man’s wife by claiming he could transform her to a mare, and a character called Andreuccio, who came to buy horses, and robbed by a high-class woman, through claiming to be his sister. In other words, Pasolini made a strenuous effort to emphasise the persistent, detrimental impact of sectarian understanding of religions and the culture of bourgeoisie, which can be seen in a continuous and linear process up to 70s with the same intentions and perspectives. Hence, Pasolini’s biased and anachronic perspective can be discernible through his story preferences. 

With regard to his Marxist world view’s interference in his adaptation and direction of ‘‘The Decameron’’ it can be said that he deliberately changed some key features of Boccaccio’s protagonists in order to engage in allegories and somehow create ideal types in the fourteenth century which were incapable of painting the full picture. In other words, it is a historical anachronism to have such cartoonish fixed, ideal characters before modernity. For instance, concerning two counterstories, related to the two young girls’s caught with their lovers, while in the case of Lorenzo and Elisabetta, because of the fact that Lorenzo belongs to a lower class, Elisabetta’s brothers kill him, in other case Caterina was caught with his lover called Riccardo and because of his high status, Caterina’s parents excessively pleased with this situation. However, the real trick that Pasoli engaged in is to transform Caterina’s father from a member of high gentry to a simple merchant to highlight the deteriorating impact of money and the newly emerging bourgeoisie. In addition to that having a better understanding of the alterations of Pasolini and their impact on the message of the film, the sophisticated cinema techniques, that he applied, must be examined. In this respect, as Bruno Ramirez indicates that filmmaker and directors have advanced techniques such as close-ups, camera movements, angles and many more newly developed technology in order to manipulate. As one of the techniques in the arsenal of directors, Pasolini also disrupted the timeline, particularly, in the story of Ciappelletto by showing him as a persistent victim of the bourgeoisie throughout the film. To put it another way, it can be said that Pasolini changed some important components of the stories of Boccaccio in order to convey a meaningful message to the pre-selected audience of him, who were probably composed of illiterate and underclass people. However, his adaptations jeopardised the authenticity and credibility of the film. 

When it comes to the examination of the authenticity in the film, with a more detailed perspective, it can be said that neo-realism in Italian cinema, emerging in the subsequent years of the World War 2, had an incontrovertible impact on the creation of ‘‘The Decameron’’. Even though its’ influence on Pasolini decreased in time. As Nico Psaltidis delineates, Neo-realism promoted a kind of naturalistic type of realism with everyday stories of poor and non-professional actors or rather people, outside the studio sets. Therefore, it can be said that as the essence of the trend, non-professional actors with their unique facial gestures and discourse without total understanding of the mentality of the people living in the fourteenth century, is not conducive to present the people as they were. In this respect, Pasolini emphasised in one interview that he does not want anyone to become a person different from themselves in order to protect the naturality. Nevertheless, even though naturality and reality as contested notions are not necessarily meeting the same meaning, Pasolini in his film tries to keep the audience in the past through illustrating the broken teeth behind the smile, naked bodies and reconstructing the locations plausibly as they were not probably, but not necessarily in the understanding of reality but naturality. In this regard, at the interview of Dante Ferretti, one of the colleagues of Pasolini, pays attention to the given importance of Pasolini on the naturality through expounding the reconstruction of the locations in which they filmed ‘‘The Decameron’’. In other words, even though the stories in the film were presented as realistic as Boccaccio presented, of course, with the absorption of the Middle Ages’ story-teller genre of Boccaccio and its’ reflection on the gestures of characters in the film, the locations in which they filmed the scenes were not always the same place within the original stories. In this particular, as Colin MacCabe indicates, Florence’s substitution with Naples was not a basic alteration but the located emphasis of Pasolini on the lower classes. Hence, it can be said that the authenticity of the film was diminished by the very intentional preferences of Pasolini. 

In conclusion, it would be accurate to say that the perspective of Pasolini not only jeopardised the believability of the content but also the authenticity of the film in an embedded way which were generally derived from his prioritisations, and social and political thoughts, not including a perfect presentation of the fourteenth century. To put it another way, contrary to Natalie Davis’ perspective on the daily life stories in historical films, they are also subject to partial, biased thoughts of their creators, as in the very ‘‘credible’’ historical documents.


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