Pier Paolo Pasolini traveled to Africa, Nepal, and the Middle East to realize this ambitious cinematic treatment of a selection of stories from the legendary The Thousand and One Nights. This is not the fairy-tale world of Scheherazade or Aladdin, though. Instead, the director focuses on the book’s more erotic tales, framed by the story of a young man’s quest to reconnect with his beloved slave girl. Full of lustrous sets and costumes and stunning location photography, Arabian Nights is a fierce and joyous exploration of human sexuality.
The third film in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, Arabian Nights, comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the third dual-layer disc of Criterion’s box set of the trilogy. The transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz.
The overall look here is probably the weakest of the three films, though its limitations have more to do with source and filming style more than anything to do with the transfer. In general the materials used for the transfer are in terrific shape and deliver very little damage, limited to a few minor flaws. There are a few scenes with optical effects that presents some heavier damage but it’s doubtful there is much of anything that could have been done with it. Colours look a little washed early on, but saturation improves as the film progresses and colours take on a far livelier look.
The digital transfer itself is excellent and I couldn’t detect any evident artifacts. Film grain is rendered nicely and details are sharp and distinct, with a few moments of softness that are more an issue with the source. So despite some noticeable issues in the source, the digital transfer itself is very strong, delivering another filmic presentation in the set.
The lossless Italian linear PCM 1.0 mono track is on par with the other tracks in the set. Dialogue is easy to hear and the film’s music is clear and free of distortion if a bit flat. Like the other films it’s obvious that dubbing has been done post-production but it’s not as noticeable here since lip movements seem to match dialogue for the majority of the film’s running time.
For supplements the disc feels the lightest of the three but it still packs some valuable material. First is something labeled as an introduction by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In essence it’s actually made up of clips from an interview with the director taken at the 27th Cannes Film Festival in 1974. Here Pasolini talks about his memory of the stories as a boy and how he approached them again with a more critical eye. He also talks about the criticisms he’s had thrown at him, specifically how the films don’t adhere to a political ideal. The first half of the piece has Pasolini speaking directly in Italian but the second half presents what I think are French translators translating the director, though addressing everything in the third person. In total it runs under 3-minutes.
Tony Rayns next provides a visual essay called On Arabian Nights, where the film scholar talks about Pasolini’s early career and films, and then his work on the trilogy and its concluding film, Arabian Nights. He talks about the story structure and how the many tales within all tie to one another, and then looks at the imagery (the “painterly” look of the films) and the film’s presentation of sex, which is certainly presented in a more joyous manner in this film than in the previous two films, both of which did present a more sinful view of the subject. He also does talk about actor Ninetto Davoli, who appears in all three films, as well as other films by the director. Overall it’s a strong scholarly edition and probably the strongest of the various essays and interviews found on the set.
The previous two discs presented documentaries which more-or-less looked at the material deleted from their respective films but this disc actually presents a selection of deleted scenes. We basically get two extended segments, the first of which appears to be an alternate opening. This opening introduces the character of Nur ed Din, who, as we learn, was actually kicked out of his home after he got drunk and offended his father. The second segment is actually an extended bit of one of the closing segments featuring Princess Dunya. Both segments are in surprisingly excellent condition with only a few blemishes. Unfortunately it appears the soundtrack has been lost so we are treated to a score set on repeat mixed in with various sound effects. Subtitles are put in place of spoken dialogue. Altogether the segments run about 21-minutes.
An intriguing extra, made before this film was released, is the short 17-minute documentary Pasolini and the Form of the City, directed by Paolo Brunatto. The piece features Pasolini talking about the cities of Orte and Sabaudia and how their history and structure is being destroyed because of modern consumerism. Early on the director talks to Ninetto Davoli about a particular modern building, made for affordable housing (which he feels is needed,) and how it destroys the skyline. It’s a passionate piece and surprisingly quite entertaining.
The disc then concludes with three theatrical trailers. The booklet included with the set includes essays on the films in the trilogy and the director.
Surprisingly I felt the supplements were fewer on this disc yet I was actually significantly more satisfied with what we did get here in comparison to the other discs in the set. A solid collection of material.
The film’s source materials are a bit rough in comparison to the other film’s in the set, but we yet again get another solid, filmic digital transfer that makes up for any shortcomings. With some excellent supplements this disc nicely closes off Criterion’s excellent set.