Decameron is one of the most well-known pieces, the adaptation of which has brought the author great success. History is constantly unfair, and in confirmation of this, Decameron has a well-established reputation as an obscene book. Despite such views, the creation and its adaptation cannot be regarded as such. Eroticism is present in the novels, but it does not compare with the exquisite erotic metaphors of the medieval comic poets who preceded it (Boccaccio, 2013). Meanwhile, much riskier and vulgar poetry did not shock Boccaccio’s contemporaries (MacCabe, 2013). Therefore, the author’s phrase about the stories told among young people not in church or philosophical schools was intended to defend the rationality of gathering stories. Bocaccio was trying to convey that his novels are merely authentic experiences that people shared voluntarily, with only positive emotions (Boccaccio, 2013). It was their validity that caused a considerable amount of book supporters and Pasolini’s desire to film the story.
The adaptation of Pasolini attempts to give the stories a different coloring while preserving the essence. The rethinking of Boccaccio’s stories was influenced by Posalini’s sexual openness and his anti-religiousness criticism of the Christian Democrats for duplicity and a deliberate policy of marginalizing the objectionable (Merjian, 2020). The director chose stories revolving around the themes of sex, money, and religion, mocking the hypocrisy of church leaders who use religion to divide and rule. Thus, the author did not entirely return to these older eras in his Trilogy of Life. He was interested in discovering a society free of all the commodity forms of capitalism, especially the commodity form of the body. His reflection and depiction of sex were different from all previous medieval narratives and positions. Pasolini tried to create a counterpoint to the terrifying present by grafting the marginal contemporary onto ancient texts.
Pasolini sought to reverse the system when he chose plots to take sex out of the paradigm of being overtaken by “consumerist power.” The power structure is turned upside down in a story about nuns and a guy who pretended to be a dumb fool. The nuns themselves seek sex with the hero of the story, becoming dependent on him, his sexuality, and his decision to speak or remain silent. Initially, church officials sought to control people by controlling their sexuality, but in history, the opposite has happened.
For this reason, none of the stories in Decameron take place in the world of kings and nobles (MacCabe, 2013). Even the lovely tale of Riccardo and Caterina, in which shocked lovers are forced to marry, has been changed. As in Boccaccio, Caterina’s father is a merchant, not a knight. Similarly, Isabella’s lover, killed by her brother, is transformed from a Northern Italian into a Sicilian, often referred to as Basil’s potty mouth (Boccaccio, 2013). The film adaptation was intended to move away from power-imposed attitudes and the capitalization of the body and display a reality.
The film itself consists of a set of separate, unrelated human stories, but they flow into each other smoothly and imperceptibly. Pasolini chose them in such a way as to combine comedy and irony with profound philosophical and lyrical episodes. At the same time, the avant-garde choice of framing the picture provides credibility and vitality, which leads to better disclosure of the meaning of the work (Merjian, 2020). Even shocking sexual elements are inserted not to provoke the public but to achieve the effect of normalization through the demonstration of human life.
Pasolini eschews the framing narrative in favor of his aesthetic. His choice is driven by the desire to illustrate everyday life and mores. Presentation in Pasolini’s Decameron, like Boccaccio’s one, is a hymn to humanism, a celebration of man, and a subtle and comprehensive characterization of human life (Boccaccio, 2013). At the same time, their presentation is distinct since the visual perception in the film plays a huge role. It is why Pasolini moved away from a straightforward narrative style that could quickly become boring. Instead, through his authorial tone, he gave color to the stories, making them memorable rather than monotonous.
It can be concluded that the film adaptation of the Decameron is a unique author’s work, which characterizes the director’s visual features and touches on most of the themes that worried the author throughout his life. Despite its peculiarities, it ultimately reflects Bocaccio’s original ideas, preserving his message. Therefore, Boccaccio and Pasolini aimed to show the personal self-awareness and the real life of people from different social groups in the early humanist era.
Boccaccio, G. (2013). Decameron. Bur.
MacCabe, C. (2013). The Decameron: The past is present. The Criterion Collection. Web.
Merjian, A. H. (2020). Against the Avant-garde: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Contemporary Art, and Neocapitalism. University of Chicago Press.