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Salo: 120 Days of Sodom

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Posted 24th April 2009 at 02:52 PM by Philleh

The story of libertine filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini, is almost as fascinating as his final work. He was considered one of the most dangerous men in Italy and his work was feared by the powers that be. His films were headache enough, but he was also a renowned poet, journalist, script writer and author. When you add all that up, he proved to be a major pain in their backside. The fact he was gay didnít increase his popularity with the right-wing government either, and his anti-fascism and communist attitude caused a major stir. Just before this movie was due to be released, he was gunned down, apparently by the hands of a male hustler. With all the assassinations of left-wing political figures throughout the 70ís, many believe that his demise was at the hands of the government, some even claim it was the Vatican behind the hit. Weíll never know.

Itís a damn shame indeed, as this film proved to be his most lasting movie. The sheer brutality of the film has caused a lot of trouble throughout the world, in Britain it was banned until 2000, where the British Film Institute (BFI) forced the BBFC to acknowledge this as a work of art and not a Ďvideo nastyí. It worked; it was passed without cuts to an eager audience willing to sit through the degradation that this film holds. In the US in 1998, Criterion got caught up in a copyright battle and had to withdraw the film. If any of you have a copy, count yourself VERY lucky, as you can get a handsome price for that bad boy!

A group of Italian elitists, known only as The Duke (Paolo Bonacelli), The Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi), The Magistrate (Umberto P. Quintavalle) and The President (Aldo Valletti) are accompanied by four women Signora Castelli (Caterina Boratto), Signora Maggi (Else De Giorgo), Signora Vaccari (Helene Surgere) and a pianist (Sonia Saviange). They have kidnapped sixteen boys and girls from a war torn town and have taken then to a lake house up north, where they plan on acting out any degrading act they wish on the Italian youths. On arrival they strip the youths down and throw them into uniform, after being split into groups. At lunch, one of the girls is raped by a couple of guards as the elites look on and laugh at the act. The Magistrate, getting aroused by this, rapes a young man who is sitting next to him, with the help of another guard.

As the days go on, the torment and abuse grows ever more depraved. They are forced to eat their own excrement (in real life chocolate and orange marmalade, but frighteningly realistic!), endure further rape and eventually their own demise. As they are gruesomely snuffed out by the elite in ever more sadistic designs, such as the removal of one young mans eyes with a rusty knife, a woman whose genitals are eaten by rats and the shooting of the group.

SalÚ, is a movie of rare power. Itís a movie that needs to be viewed by both fans of cinema and extreme material. Taking his influence from the works of Marque de Sade, interestingly a figure Pasolini has been likened too, his portrait (or more fitting) his philosophy of human natures darkest base is on such a bold level that it has yet to be rivalled. He has also paid homage to Danteís Inferno in the chaptering of the films voyage through degradation and torment, fans of classic literature will no doubt get a kick out of spotting other influences that are scattered throughout the film. Some people however have, rather ridiculously, claimed this movie it pornographic! Sure there is full frontal nudity, but whatever it is they saw in this movie as titillating is horrifying in itself and goes to show just how little they understand about the word, or, how twisted their sex lives are: good work people!

The biggest downside is that itís a nihilistic, emotionally redundant movie and the pessimism can become unbearable (read: a perfect portrayal of violence). Your head will need to be in the right place to view this in its entirety, as you will feel as violated as the characters onscreen. As much as I like to believe Iím desensitized to screen violence, this movie affected me like no other. It made me feel guilty for enjoying violence as a regular part of my viewing habits and felt as if Pasolini was insinuating that I could be like one of the elitist in the correct circumstances: pleasantly watching violent acts played out in front of me. Those who feel they are unfazed by this also should slip this into their player and prepare to be proved wrong. Itís a one-of-a-kind gut wrencher that will have the most hardened gore hound gagging at the on screen antics.

The actors who play the elitists, somehow, manage to bring out some marvellously deranged performances that donít come across a pantomime-level evil, as it could easily have fallen into: this can be credited to Pasolini and his eye for a genuine performance. The victims however, didnít really require much as they all look like rabbits caught in headlights and seem genuinely afraid for their lives as the film progresses.

Misanthropes everywhere will no doubt be rejoicing when they finish this movie, finally having a reason to feel justified in their hatred of humans everywhere. I donít believe in misanthropy however, but I do see this as a necessary evil of sort. It will put into perspective why violence SHOULDNíT be used as entertainment, and will have you thankful that such confrontational cinema exists, as the next time you sit down and watch Live Free or Die Hard or whatnot, where life has no price whatsoever, you may just find yourself thinking, Pasolini was a humanitarian at heart!

The BFI and Criterion recently released brand new special editions of Salo, so those willing to take the plunge will find themselves with a wealth of extraís and context to help aide the pummelling theyíve just taken.

SalÚ, is required viewing indeed, but only a single viewing. Those who are interested in Pasolini will no doubt want to own this for their collection and to study this over and over, as it shows a man truly on the edge of despair with his fellow man. One could ask, if he hadnít have been killed, how much longer would he have WANTED to live?

Directed by:
Pier Paolo Pasolini

Paolo Bonacelli
Giorgio Cataldi
Umberto P. Quintavalle
Aldo Valletti

Recommendations: Irreversible & Baise Moi
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  1. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    I love (If that's the right word...) this movie.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 24th April 2009 at 02:55 PM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    A film this ugly is hard to love, but by cracky - I respect it!
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    Posted 24th April 2009 at 03:02 PM by Philleh Philleh is offline
  3. Old Comment
    mbv's Avatar
    This is the first movie I saw that made me feel real guilty about watching it. I saw it first in a 'Banned' season in a cinema in Dublin and about 80% of the audience walked out before the movie was even half way through.

    Great review
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    Posted 7th August 2009 at 07:57 AM by mbv mbv is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    Thank MBV, glad you enjoyed the read.

    As for that 80%, I think I'd probably be one of them. Sitting through this on the small screen was an ordeal; the big screen might have been a little too much for me! I think hell could be summed up as being locked in a cinema with this movie on repeat, nowhere to go, surrounded by the horrors of the film and nothing else to do but re-watch it for eternity... horrifying!

    Masterpiece none the less.
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 11th August 2009 at 03:03 PM by Philleh Philleh is offline
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