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Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) * Favourite Review *


Really not nice... I mean hideous. Who in their right mind would... Oh TITS!
Really not nice... I mean hideous. Who in their right mind would... Oh TITS!

Genre: Drama Horror (Italy, France)

Starring: Paolo Bonacelli (Caligula), Caterina Boratto (Juliet of the Spirits)

Directed By: Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Gospel According to St. MatthewRogopag)

Overview: Four libertines in facist Italy kidnap 18 young men and women to fulfill their perverse sado-masochistic desires, fueled by the stories of old prostitutes.

Middle English libertyn freedman, 1577
A person who is unrestrained by convention or morality; specifically: one leading a dissolute life

Salò is the type of film that I truly appreciate as a critic. It's the sort of film that invites the exploration and discussion of several unformed ideas, and luckily for me, you get to read all about it. Don't get me wrong, Salo is not a 'pleasure', it's not something to 'enjoy'. But it's sparked more ideas than most films I've seen, and thus the discussion becomes worthy - to me at least - perhaps MORESO because the subject matter is so reprehensible.

Let us begin with background: Pier Paolo Pasolini has always been a controversial director, with sex as a common theme in his films, but none so brutal and explicit as Salò. In 1975, Pasolini wrote and directed the screenplay inspired by Marquis de Sade's unfinished novel, The 120 Days of Sodom, a story where four men kidnap, rape and torture a group of men and women for months at a secluded chateaux.

Pasolini did his best to remain as faithful to the characters and plot as the original novel, but at the same time splashed the film with a streak of auteur by setting it firmly during the fascist Italy he so fondly detested rather than the novel's original 17th century France.

"The entire film with its unheard-of atrocities which are almost unmentionable, is presented as an immense sadistic metaphor of what was the Nazi-Fascist 'dissociation' from its 'crimes against humanity'. [These characters] behave exactly with their victims as the Nazi-Fascists did with theirs. They considered them as objects and destroyed automatically all possibility of human relationship with them." - Pasolini, in his own notes on the film.

I'll spare you examples of this films' brutal torture and scenes of humanity so completely exploited, but I will admit they are rather original. What I wasn't quite prepared for was long, up-close scenes of feces being eaten, whether by force or voluntarily cherished as a delicacy. But let's discuss the most disturbing thing I faced while watching this film: the cinematography.

"In every shot it can be said I set myself the problem of driving the spectator to feeling intolerant and immediately afterwards relieving him of that feeling." - Pasolini, in his own notes on the film

In response to the above quote, I completely disagree. So frequently did I find a lack of close-ups and victims' reactions that I have sought explanation for the shooting style, and I will assume the best: these mind-boggling omissions are intentional. Since they are nothing more than objects, the reactions of the victims being debased are seen as useless by their predators. What more perfect a way of conveying that than by detaching the lens from the prey? The lack of close-ups and basic capturing of action/reaction in times of high drama are numerous. In the final scene, we even see through the opposite lenses of binoculars, the final horrors being seen in miniature, so in that climax, I was made to believe this was all done on purpose.

But I still felt cheated. A tear, a gasp, a quivering lip caught up close would have gone a long way in making my experience a better one. Perhaps it's my sensationalism-loving side, but as a viewer I felt too often detached from the experience, and though these libertines characters we follow are callous and heartless, they aren't about lack of emotion, they're hedonists. For as poignant as the story was, for as much as I will admit it left a very lasting impression, I'd have liked to have 'felt' it a little more, to be made to bask in the glow of the malignance these fascists exuded, and the camerawork did all it could to hold me back from that.

It certainly would have been preferable to a pee-soaked plate of shit in extreme close-up.

No French Kiss for you!
No French Kiss for you!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 82% (Painfully Pleasant)

This was Pasolini's final film. Before its release, Pasolini was brutally murdered by being run over several times by his own car. There is still mystery surrounding his death, what with gay hustlers retracting confessions years later, evidence pointing towards extortionists and the Mafia, and involvement by the Italian Secret Service interfering with the case, it seems this man's last film is far more than a parable of an auteur's life, but an interestingly stark prophecy of his end.

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Interesting analysis. I've heard a lot about how grotesque this movie is, but very little critical writing. The upcoming Criterion treatment looks to be their typical Grade A.

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