"Arabian Nights," the X-rated Pasolini film that won a special award at Cannes -- maybe as the best mystery show of the year -- has opened at Washington movie houses and (since it won simething at Cannes) one is entitled to go with a clear conscience.

There is no point going with any other intent, by the way, unless the occasional sight of unclothed mid-portions of human anatomy in a film is worth $3 to one.

The story is simple enough, in the way dreams are, with things coming and going vaguely, and at the very center of the business is a beautiful slave girl who manages to be sold to a smiling youth of quite slight prospects. s

His eyes enchant her and she does not object either to his somewhat widely spaced teeth or to his customary grin which she finds disarming and not asinine at all.

There is a blue-eyed Christian who seeks throgh money to horn in but he is crucified and thus disposed of, and there is yet another fellow who wanders off on his wedding day to meet another woman and thus (to his surprise) offends his bride, but no hard feelings, and it all works out, though yet another fellow, who chains up the slave girl and makes off with her, is crucified just as the Christian is (he has brown eyes).

You may think the story hard to follow? It is not. One simply ignores it and assumes all will turn out as the gods decree and this, I think, is what happens, to some extent and up to a point.

However dangerous to impute intellectual content to fantasy films, I think we have it here:

Love is a talisman against evil, against harm.

Those who seize love, or try to, do not succeed, but those who come to love as a child, offering nothing but innocence, come off fairly well.

Sometimes this side of dozing off we all may fall into easy torpors which need not be despised, since beautiful insights may come to us then.

One man's insight is another man's balderdash, needless to say, but whether the film makes much sense or not, in a linear or John Wayne-type way, it may make sense at less conscious levels, especially to those who are quite good at unconsciousness.

Gorgeously filmed in Yemen, Ethiopia, Israel and other fabled lands, it reminds us once again of the startling and strange beauty of the real world as it exists (though we do not see it often) -- a beauty as great as that of our imagination.

The ultimate impression, perhaps, is of a world unspeakably beautiful, in which we float haphazardly, somtimes done in by our coarseness, sometimes saved by our innocence, and which in any case we do not very well understand.

That much even a John Wayne buff can accept.

It is facile to say the film makes no sence whatever since I have already pointed out a couple of sensible morals and impressions that can reasonably be gleaned, and we always want to remember there is room for new approaches to storytelling. It would be wrong not to warn folk hopping for a "Thief of Baghdad" that this is not that, not at all, but it would be equally foolish to condemn something merely because it floats about like dreams. We have all got used to dreams, though once we all denied them. Maybe we'll get used to thi sort of film. Which at least has gorgeous backgrounds.Wait:

Gorgeous, not in the sense of Cecil B. DeMille would have approved, with jeweled caves and palaces and peacock fans and silken sails.

But gorgeous in the almost documentary-style settings of peasant gardens with grapevines propped up on poles, and brimming ablution pools.

A film beautiful to the eye and puzzling to the brain. No harm in that. But remember, not the least pornographic that I could see.