SALO OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma)

(director/writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini; screenwriters: from the book 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade/Sergio Citti; cinematographer: Tonino Delli Colli; editors: Nino Baragli/Tatiana Casini Morigi/Enzo Ocone; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Aldo Valletti (The President), Paolo Bonacelli (The Duke), Elsa De Giorgi (Signora Maggi), Giorgio Cataldi (The Bishop), Umberto Paolo Quintavalle (Curval the Magistrate), Helene Sugere (Signora Vaccari), Signora Castelli (Caterina Boratto); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NC-17; producer: Alberto Grimaldi; United Artists; 1976-Italy/France-with English subtitles)

“Shocking film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The controversial poet, Communist and openly homosexual filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s (“Accatone”/”Gospel According to St Matthew”) last film; he was killed soon after the film was released by a teenaged street hustler running him over with his own car repeatedly–though many of his followers believe otherwise, that the lone teen who was sentenced to nine years couldn’t have been the only one involved (suspecting political rivals). Salo is based on Marquis de Sade’s 18th-century pornographic novel 120 Days of Sodom, changing the setting to a villa in northern Italy during the final days of the Second World War. Those in charge are members of the puppet government set up at Salo when the Nazis temporarily freed Mussolini from the Italian partisans.

This almost unbearable to watch dreary film in sadism (a word derived from de Sade) serves as Pasolini’s uncompromising message to the world that fascism is real and cannot be forgotten or else we lose sight of what humanity is capable of. We can’t take comfort that we have rid the world of fascism because it’s still alive and well. To see the truth of that, Pasolini aims to uncover that absolute power leads to complete corruption (in modern times, you can look at President George W. Bush and the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq perpetuated by the arrogant use of power and the regimes of many other power-hungry leaders across the world).

The four hosts from the novel—the duke, the president, the magistrate and the bishop—are now changed to the ruling upper-class Fascists in Salo, called the Masters. Their purpose is to flaunt their evil nature as something ingrained in the human spirit, as this sicko jaded group of perverts and sadists organize the kidnapping of nine young virgin men and women and imprison them in an isolated country villa. They subject them to various forms of torture, humiliation and perversion. One boy is shot dead trying to escape, one girl commits suicide. The victims are put on leashes and made to walk around like dogs, their eyeballs are gouged out, a girl is made to urinate on a Master, the vics are made to feast on feces and wallow in it; they are then raped, forced into sex with a member of their same sex, tortured further and eventually murdered. If anything, such bestial violence gives one insight into the Holocaust mentality among the fascists.

This explicit and uncompromising view of such dehumanized depravity is bound to disturb the viewer and will obviously turn many off. But, no matter, it does make one think, perhaps, like one never has before about power trips, politics and sex. The victims were nonprofessional actors, while the madams, used in the story to arouse the four hosts by telling them ribald tales, are professional actresses. One of the film’s points is that being executed might not be as bad as tortured a thousand times during one’s existence.

It’s a shocking film that aims to shake people up. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I understood where Pasolini was coming from and can appreciate his intensity. Silence about such atrocities is no longer an option for moderns, or such depravities will always continue to exist unchecked.