It’s also a masterpiece. The controversial poet, novelist, and filmmakers transposition of the Marquis de Sade’s eighteenth-century opus of and degradation to 1944 Fascist Italy remains one of the most passionately debated films of all time, a thought-provoking inquiry into the political, social, and sexual dynamics that define the world we live in.
eyelights: Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score.
eyesores: its debasement of humanity.
“It is when I see others degraded that I rejoice knowing it is better to be me than the scum of “the people”.”
The only reason I ever saw ‘Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma’ is because it was a long out-of-print Criterion DVD. I had seen Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life” and had enjoyed some aspects of it, so when I found out that one of the rarest Criterion DVDs was one of his films, I kept my eye out for a copy; I wanted to get my hands on it.
The damned thing ran for hundreds of dollars on eBay – and this was in the early days of the format! It was nearly impossible to find and was absolutely unaffordable when a copy did pop up. But, one day, I found a second-hand copy in a local CD/DVD store. Granted, it was a bootleg manufactured to look like the original, but I bought it.
I had to. After all this, I just had to; I wanted to see this mythical, rare film.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
‘Salò’ is based on ‘Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l’école du libertinage’ by the Marquis de Sade. Set in late-1944/early-1945, it follows the sexual, physical and psychological abuses that four wealthy fascists subject a group of nine young men and nine young women over the course of a few weeks in a deserted mansion near Salò, Italy.
It is one of the most vile, dreary, depressing pictures I’ve ever seen.
It’s nightmare-inducing poison for the psyche.
There is no real plot. After rounding up their victims (which the cast are actually credited as!), with the help of a few eager female associates, our four antagonists essentially spend the whole film raping these young people in various ways, thriving on their cries and whimpers. Gradually, they degrade them to the point of torture.
The picture is mercifully broken up in a few parts: Antichamber of Hell, Circle of Obsession, Circle of $#!t, and Circle of Blood. At least this provides the drowning viewer something to latch onto to avoid sinking into the picture’s quicksand of immorality. It could also be viewed as chapters by those who can’t stomach two full hours.
The only thing that breaks up the disturbing behaviour on screen is one of the women’s storytelling: A child abuse survivor who has “blossomed” into a high-end call girl, she regales in recounting the assembled abusers, guards and victims, some of her most lurid experiences in all their graphic, nearly-pornographic glory.
…to the sounds of another woman gayly playing the piano.
It’s all really messed up. I understand that some people are cruel, but I don’t understand why these women were partaking in these crimes. They appeared brainwashed, ready to do anything for the so-called Duke, Bishop, Magistrate and President – and yet the men exhibited no physical or psychological violence towards any of them.
As for the victims, even though their numbers were greater, they were quickly shown that there was no escape and that not even death could be counted on as respite from their agony; they basically had to submit to whatever was forced upon them. I get that. It happens. But it seems to me that a riot could easily have been organised.
Or a simple suicide could have been planned, if so desired.
Frankly, I don’t really understand what the point of the picture was. I’m sure that some arguments could be made that some sort of statement on the excesses of power (and, more specifically, fascism) can be found here. Or one might even argue that it’s supposed to be satirical. But I find no value in watching this kind of abuse.
As far as I’m concerned, people desecrating others (against their will, one must add) for their own benefit is an appalling thing.
And I couldn’t help but wonder why any filmmaker would want to make a movie like this if there’s no moral juxtaposition. Who thought that watching people dehumanize each other for two hours would be worth something? What did they expect us to take from it? And what did they get out of it, other than satisfying their own voyeuristic fetishes?
I have no idea.
‘Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma’ was apparently intended as the first part of a “Trilogy of Death”, but Pasolini was murdered before the release of this film, and never got to complete the set. Frankly, after having suffered through this for what is now a second time, I’m sort of glad that the world has been spared further atrocities.
Nota bene: The picture is technically solid, but I refuse to rate it even on its technical merits. My sense of enjoyment was a 2.5, mostly for Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score and the production, but the film probably deserves a 7.0 for execution. I just can’t bring myself to recommend this movie on any level.
What could its redeeming value be?
Date of viewing: July 24, 2016