In Ancient Arabian times, a slave named Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini) was being sold in the street, but there was a catch: she got to choose who she thought would make the best master for her, and all the men who bid on her were rejected for being unsuitable. Although she laughed, and the crowd did too, she didn't know she had made an enemy that day, but in the meantime she settled on a penniless young prince there who she liked, and gave him the money for him to buy her from the slavemaster. He was Nuredin (Franco Merli), and he was soon in love with his new purchase...
There was more than one story to be told here, as had been the case with writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini's two previous films in his Trilogy of Life, but this time around took fewer tales and made more of a meal of them, so while we were distracted by one we would return to the relationship between Zumurrud and Nuredin, as that was the spine of the film, offering a mixture of comedy and drama that would permeate the rest of the mood. Not to mention there was a strong element of fantasy to much of it as well, and even in the plots which took place largely in the "real" world, a sense of some kind of magical quality to what we were watching was never far away.
The narrative of the slave who wasn't really is a romantic telling of true love struggling to survive against the odds, for once Nuredin has been taken to bed by Zumurrud he has lost his heart to her, which makes it all the more unfortunate that she should be whisked away by the nobleman she insulted at the auction, among other people, keeping her and her new lover apart for the duration of most of the movie. As we keep returning to them, as if Pasolini was reluctant to let them go from the proceedings for too long, Zumurrud winds up mistaken for a man and forced to marry a Princess, which means she is made King, something which looks ludicrous because Pellegrini obviously wasn't masculine.
But then plenty of what happens here not only verges on the ridiculous, but toppled over straight into it; granted it was a comedy as much as a drama, but there comes a point where you're unsure what's supposed to be funny and what isn't. Pasolini's sort of mascot for this series of works was Ninetto Davoli, and in his previous appearances he had played the comedian, yet here he ends up in a complicated case of wishing to have sex with a mystery princess in spite of being engaged to someone else, which culminates in the princess ordering him castrated, and you're never entirely clear on why - neither is the Davoli character. You could excuse this as a product of the ancient texts this was based on, but it didn't half make for a strange film.
Nevertheless, Pasolini attempted to render this more universal by emphasising humour and sex, and in the latter this was the most explicit of the trilogy with full frontal nudity every five minutes or so, some of it going as far as it was possible without making pornography. Certainly this would capture a particular kind of audience, but after a while the more spiritual aspect dominated, so there were inscrutable narratives involving a red-haired demon (Franco Citti) whose motives are truly alien (and whose special effects are truly lacking), and a prince (Salvatore Sapienza) who embarks on a quest of enlightenment only to suffer multiple indignities including being turned into a chimp and nearly drowned when the toy boat - er, I mean the majestic ship - he's on crashes into a magic mountain. If nothing else the director used his international locations superbly, this really did look lavish, and if the finer points were obscure, you could feel it moving towards some profundity even if you didn't think it succeeded. Music by Ennio Morricone.