Jul 28, 2010

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Writers: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti
Release Year: 1976
Italian title: Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma

A manifesto for perversion and evil

As Allied forces began their final push to control Italy, a group of Fascist leaders in Salo, Northern Italy, (the last bastion of Nazism left in Italy) who knowing their time is limited, decide to bow out with a bang. Their plan is to kidnap local boys and girls, the sons and daughters of so called Communists in the community in order to subject them to the utmost degradation while at the same time satiating their own evil vices.

The four main leaders gather at a palatial country house and draw up their perverted plan down to the utmost detail. The kidnapped youths are told that they can forget being rescued as their families believe they are dead, they are here to be degraded by those in authority and that they will be punished if they look at a member of the opposite sex and that anyone resorting to any religious activity will be executed.

Each day the captives and their captors gather in the great hall where one of three mature ladies of ill epute, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom salo1 300x184 dramaall Madames from local brothels, each take their turn to regale them with a detailed erotic tale from her past, this is designed to get everybody sexually aroused for the coming orgies. These youths initially show some rebellious traits, but these are quickly curtailed, as they are continually subjected to degradation, humiliation, debauchery and rape, but these are some of the lesser evils inflicted on them and by the end its difficult to tell the youths from their captors, as the rapists are themselves raped while in the midst of their dastardly deed, their hedonistic transformation complete.

Each stark and sterile scene seems to have been framed with a geometric fervour and the continual bombardment of harsh and disturbing visuals is juxtaposed brilliantly against the beautifully simple piano arrangements and sumptuous strings of Ennio Morricone’s orchestra. Pasolini takes up the story at De Sade’s request where he had left off, De Sade in his unfinished book asking the reader to finish the story themselves and this Pasolini does with gusto and glee. Pasolini had long courted controversy in his career, touching on controversial subjects, being a homosexual and also a strong anti fascist, which is ironic because his father was a hero to the fascists, as he had once saved Benito Mussolini’s life. He had long been scorned by the Catholic Church because of his lifestyle and beliefs but received somewhat of a reprieve from them after his film THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW was released, which the church surprisingly praised as a fine tribute to the man, but it wasn’t long before he was back on controversial topics such as Salo. Sadly Pasolini for his troubles never actually lived to see Salo’s official release as he was brutally murdered before hand, by a male prostitute amidst rumours of a Mafia hit. Pasolini’s homosexuality is perhaps one of the reasons the film is labelled in some circles as nothing more than arty gay porn and yet there is also plenty of heterosexual content, so it’s a moot point, but there are many gay scenes within and the film as a whole and it does have a preponderance towards, nay, a continuous homage towards the buttocks and anus, which are given an exalted position at the expense of both sexes genitalia, so if one is in anyway leaning towards homophobia this film should be given a miss.

Pasolini’s most controversial film is loosely based on some equally controversial writings, Dante’s INFERNO and De Sade’s incomplete 120 DAYS OF SODOM. The film echoes these writings and is split into three parts, The Circle of Manias, The Circle of Shit and The Circle of Blood, with each subsequent section becoming more vile, although it’s the second section, a sickening banquet, that will stand out and live long in the memories of all who lasted the pace. The final segment gathers a pSalo, or the 120 Days of Sodom salo2 300x186 dramaace as the allied bombers become louder and the captors seek the ultimate satisfaction when all the hell of the “Inferno” is unleashed in a brutal final scene of sadism that is virtually a portmanteau of all the most gruesome scenes in Horror movie history, it’s a scene that can leave no doubt in the viewers mind, that the captives are in the Hades/Hell of De Sade‘s imagination.

Pasolini’s film has a justified reputation as a disturbing film and despite its exploitation excesses it is a remarkably well crafted film, exquisitely filmed by long time collaborator Tonino Delli Colli (perhaps best known as Leone’s DP on IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO).

The film is also noted by many critics as dull or boring, for my own part I found it riveting, as the film wastes no time in getting down to the dirty shocking deeds and continues to surprise and shock with every reel, a “Filet de Cinema”. The film is a manifesto for perversion and evil and how under the right/wrong circumstances it could be brought out in us all.

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