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My friends and I have a film night once a week, and delight in watching unusual foreign language films, with each of us bringing along a few offerings each week, and a general vote being held about which to watch. The most recent film we decided to watch was Salo.
An adaptation of the 1785 work 120 Days of Sodom by Donatien Alphonse François (better known as the Marquis de Sade) Salo takes the essential plot of the novel - four wealthy male libertines who (with members of the military acting as their enforcers) seek to experience the ultimate in sexual gratification, and enlist the help of four experienced prostitutes, who weave tales of their sexual adventures that inspire the four men in their treatment of the 9 teenage boys and 9 teenage girls they have kidnapped and hold captive - but changes the setting to 1944 Italy, makes the four men into fascists, and removes the identifying names of the men, simply referring to them by their powerful roles (Duke, Bishop, Magistrate, President who allegorically represent the aristocracy, religion, law, and finance) in this odd private sexual society they have created.
The teenagers are subjected to repeated violent and non-consensual sexual humiliation at the hands of these four men and their 'studs' - men hired for the length of their penises - subjected to threats of extreme violence and continually degraded purely for the satisfaction of these four powerful men. The story is in four segments, the Marquis de Sade having been heavily inspired by Dante's Inferno: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood
It goes without saying that any film based on the works of the Marquis de Sade is going to be fairly shocking in nature, and based largely around the issue of sex, and in particular, sexual sadism (Sadism is the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain, cruelty, degradation, humiliation, or watching such behaviors inflicted on others). After all, the very word Sadism came about because of the Marquis de Sades writings and behaiour. So perhaps, it won't be too much of a shock to know that this 1975 film was the subject of much controversy upon its release and still remains banned in several countries.
The film itself I found a very disturbing watch. I wouldn't consider myself particularly prudish, but I did find the constant full frontal nudity of the teenage hostages incredibly disturbing - they were very rarely allowed to wear clothes. I found the abuse and sexual violence within the film deeply disturbing, and there were some points where I simply had to turn away rather than look at the screen. There were several scenes involving people being forced to eat faeces, being forced to urinate on others, being raped, and being placed in fear of their life for the amusement of others. In terms of subject matter, this is an incredibly difficult film, and whilst many attribute the films setting in Italy after the fall of Benito Mussolini as being an anti-fascist statement by the films director, and the faeces eating scenes in particular being a metaphor for the horrors of junk food, I think that most of this deeper sub plot passed me by.
With that said, there were parts of the film that warrant recognition - the use of atmospheric lighting, perceived threat, and almost comedically sinister looking actors did help to develop a real sense of danger and fear when watching the film. The four people of power (Duke, Bishop, Magistrate, President) were genuinely rather creepy and upsetting to watch on screen, even in scenes where they weren't directly abusing people. In particular, the President is played by a cross-eyed, high-pitched balding man who is very, very creepy - constantly grinning in a smug, satisfied kind of way even as the worst abuses unfold around him. Theres an expression of almost childish delight even as he indulges in the most depraved of activities that is deeply unsettling, Something about the way he manages to look at the victim, but also at the viewer, makes one feel guilty, almost as if by watching we are in some way complicit in this behaviour.
I can't say I liked this film. I was shocked, horrified, disturbed and disgusted by it, and whilst I failed to see many of the metaphors or political statements in the film many other see, I could see a definite statement within the film about the abuse of power by the powerful, and the dangers of being mutely accepting of others authority. I rather feel that the fact I so often had to turn away from the screen, rendering me unable to read the subtitles, may have affected the depth of my understanding of the films intended message.
Whether I would recommend this is a difficult question. Whilst the film is well shot and the actors portray their roles brilliantly, this simply isn't comfortable viewing. I could never describe this film as enjoyable, amusing, or entertaining, which are, for me, all part of what makes a good film. But it does make you think, and it does make you question, which in itself is important.
I'm going to give this film 2 stars. Whilst I think it perhaps has a deeper political message that is important, and could perhaps be considered to have a certain amount of artistic merit, I certainly think that for most people it simply won't appeal, and I certainly won't be watching it again.
The dvd contained no special features or extras.
The 120 days of Sodom
The movie Salo goes by another name. It is perhaps better known as the 120 days of Sodom, named so because of the literary work upon which it has been based. The work of the same name was written by the Marquis due Sade, and indeed the words within caused the Marquis to be label led as being quite mad. If you have ever seen this film, you may begin to understand why. Also, the Marquis's name was the origin of the word sadism, which is what most of the work is about.
Salo has foundation laid in Dante's inferno, and the film itself is split into 4 main portions inspired by such. They are the 'anteinferno', the circle of manias, the circle of shit and the circle of blood. I think that the names of the portions help to go some way to explain some of the content of the film, and may have your stomach churning somewhat, which in essence was the whole point of the work being made. Couple that with its setting slap bang in the middle of fascist Italy, and you have got a bubbling cauldron of filth and depravity.
The story centres around four powerful men, the president, the bishop, the duke and the magistrate, all of whom perform a bizarre and horrific social experiment. After that marry each other daughters, the go about capturing eighteen teenagers, nine male nine female. They do this with the aid of some young people enlisted especially for the task. They take the teenagers to the palace, and with the help of four older prostitutes, the children are subjected to various mental, physical and sexual tortures for the benefit of the 'masters'.
The plot then follows through Dante's circles, where the names tell the tale of what is to become of the young adults. The anteinferno concentrates on the capture and inspection of the kids. The circle of manias shows us some of the stories taken from Dante's work. The circle of shit shows mainly varying degrading sexual acts, up to and including the consumption of human excrement. The circle of blood concentrates on the physical torture, and evident killing of some of the captives. There is no happy ending. The strangely sickening final scene is that of two of the male guards that helped capture the kids, dancing off of n a seemingly passionate waltz.
My two cents
Director Pier Paolo Pasolini has brought us a real shock fest here. Despite being based on two famous literary disaster pieces, it seems to lack and real literary merit of its own. Salo is more of a physical watch, with the on screen sadism on show the main attraction (if you like that sort of thing.). Though classified in the horror bracket, it is like no other horror out there. It is less scary, more deeply depraved. It aims to grip you with its disgust, and consume you with the abhorrent social dystrophy that you fingd there.
For me, it goes too far. The apparent youth of the captives, and its seemingly paedophilia laden story is a concern. The fact then, that these people are predominantly naked (full frontal) is hard to watch. The terror on their faces as the ask the question 'why' without speaking. That, for me, is far more difficult to watch than the sodomy, violence and coprophagia (the eating of excrement.).
Of course, the sheer fact that these activities are here warrant the watch, to see how they deal with it, and how graphic it is. Lovers of shock horror should find enough here to tie there insides in knots. The effects are good, even given the film being released way back in 1975, and it really does shock you to the core. The film has a bizarre ability of making you want to watch it, but making you hate yourself for it.
The film remains banned to this day in several countries all over the world, but is free to view here. It is worth a watch to see what is quite possibly a realistic view of what went on in fascist Italy in 1944. The fact that it could happen is truly sickening, and my suggestion is that if you can leave your stomach at the door, then do so. It will be a difficult watch, but fans of shock horror owe it to themselves to see it. Not one for the more delicate constitution.
note: also appears on Flixster and The Student Room in part
Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, the adaptation of The Marquis De Sade's classic controversial novel (which saw him labelled as insane), is difficult to recommend as a work of entertainment, for it is highly disturbing, vile, and disgusting. Most cinemagoers will be utterly repelled by the horrors within this film, but it is something of a cultural landmark, and probably the most famous film by Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Pasolini's film concerns itself with the fascistic state of Italy's Salo in 1944, where a group of sadists (a term coined after the novel's author itself) kidnap a group of young teenagers and then forces them at gunpoint to partake in a number of utterly foul, vile acts, ranging from having painful sex with each other, to eating each other's bowel movements. There isn't really much more to it than that - the film has little interest in entertaining, and is just an increasingly depraved bout of scenes that get sicker and sicker as the film continues.
Much like the splatter film Men Behind the Sun, though, it is disturbing and therefore an important reminder of the attrocities of our past - it is not simply a mindless gorefest as so many "torture porn" films are. It is a harrowing reminder of what our past human history has done, and a lesson not to repeat the same mistakes. In many ways, the film is a love letter to humanity in depicting the acts of utter debasement that we are capable of.
A grotesque, but well-written and unflinching film. Salo is a daring effort for its time, and whilst it disgusts, it also intrigues. Without doubt one of the most sickening films of all time.
Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salo or the 120 days of Sodom), an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's 18th-century novel has been described as 'the most controversial film of all time'. Depicting several acts of rape, sexual torture, and murder, mostly on children, Salo certainly grabs your attention.
The director Pier Paolo Pasolini was brutally murdered shortly after the film was completed, and many think that the male prostitute who committed the murder did so because of the effect the film had on him. The film has been banned in many countries, and was banned in the UK for many years too.
Set in the Nazi-controlled northern Italian state of Salo in 1944, four middle-aged libertines round up 8 boys and 8 girls to take away to their estate. The children are all in the late adolescent stage, and are considered by the men to be 'perfect specimens of youth'.
We never find the real names of these men, with them only being referred to as 'The Duke', 'The Bishop', 'The Magistrate', and 'The President' respectively. They aim to make these children their slaves, to serve them sexually and to provide whatever they need.
Accompanying the men and children to their lakeside mansion is a small army of gun-toting militia to stop any protests from the children, and 4 prostitutes, three of whom tell supposedly sexually arousing stories of their experiences for the libertines and the children, whilst the other accompanies the recollections with piano music.
The children are degraded in the most humiliating ways possible, the film being split into three sections to go with the tortures - The Circle of Manias, The Circle of Shit, and The Circle of Blood, obviously inspired by the work of Dante Alighieri.
Things get a whole lot worse, and without wanting to give anything away, the final half hour is amongst the most brutal and controversial of all time in cinema.
The meaning of the film:
First things first, don't get this film mistaken, it's not meant to be taken literally. Pasolini was a big opposer to all forms of fascism, consumerism and Nazism, and tried to portray this in Salo, using the works of Marquis de Sade as the story for which to show his beliefs.
His intent was to use the unbridled use of power, taken to the absolute extreme levels of sexual degradation, as a metaphor for the whole fundamentals and thesis of fascism itself, seen as a philosophy that worships power for its own sake.
When one of the militia is found sleeping with a black servant girl, which was against the masters rule, he knows he is to be shot, and raises his arm in a communist salute in a final act of defiance against the libertines, which corresponds with Pasolini's own feelings.
In the feces-eating scene, Pasolini creates a metaphor for consumer capitalism and junk food, or so he maintains. There are many hidden ideas and feelings that Pasolini has craftily worked into one of the most bizarre plots you'll see.
Despite all of the horrific scenes of torment and torture, Salo is a comedy. Granted, the laughs in this film are extremely few and far between, but the film is aimed as a satirical mockery of fascism and right-wing politics.
The acting and directing:
To make this film credible and not laughed at, there needed to be some good performances from the libertines, which they duly delivered. Each one of the four actors brings to life their incredibly creepy character with individual styles that make them uniquely bizarre and scary.
The best example of this is Paolo Bonacelli as the belliowing, bestial Duke. He captures the tone of the film perfectly as a monstrous cartoon of evil, depicted brilliantly in the scene where he smiles madly as he instructs one of the girls to urinate on his face.
We see little in the way of real acting from most of the others, with the prostitutes having small parts telling their stories, but little other involvement. They reminisce proudly, with the air that their profession is a respectable and decent way to make trade, which of course it isn't, especially with some of the fetishes and manias that they boast about satisfying. The actresses here do their job well on the whole, but some small parts let them down, especially one bout of the worst fake laughter I've ever heard.
The children also have few lines, and cannot be judged on their performance easily. What they have to do they do well, but it's hardly Oscar-winning stuff - their on-screen masters tell them to do something, and they do it, usually after a slight hesitation. Having said that, they still do a good job, and the few moments in which they have to show emotion or speak lines, they act nicely.
On the whole, the film is directed brilliantly, a huge project conveying the beliefs and feelings of Pasolini, which is why this film is considered a masterpiece by so many today. He directs the film very artistically and eloquently throughout the film, and a scene that shows his directing prowess is the final scene which is eerily set to no music in the background, which works perfectly.
Will you enjoy this film?
Yes and no. Most people come away from this film revolted at what they have seen, and a lot also misinterpret the message of the film. As long as you have a strong enough stomach, and don't take the film too seriously, I think you will like it.
People might argue that the aim of a film is for it to excite you, to make you laugh, or to keep you on the edge of your seat, and this film doesn't do any of these. However, it is in this way that Salo is more like a work of art than a contemporary film at times; the effect it has on you as you walk away from it considering what you have just seen is far greater than the desired effect it has on you when you watch it.
It's not an easy thrill-a-minute movie by any stretch of the imagination, the aim of Salo is to make you think about the world and all its politics, and to that extent it achieves its goals. If you're looking for a simple film that will just entertain you, this is not for you, but if you're prepared to be shocked and made to think, then definitely go for it.
Price - £14.98 (from www.amazon.co.uk)
Running time - 116 minutes
Certification - UK 18 / US X (Note - film is still banned in many countries)
Language - Italian (English subtitles)
DVD Extras - None
You cannot fail to take notice of this gripping and disturbing film, which charts the Marquis de Sade's last few days relenquishing power and subjecting his young Italian slaves to degrading and humiliating acts.
The film is bleak and cold, director Pier Paolo Pasolini favours lingering shots, uncomfortable scenes and downright hideous acts which are shown as openly as he intended. Some scenes will make you feel quite sick and you will find yourself wincing.
The film begins with a grim outlook and builds agonisingly to a gruesome finale, which blurs the boundaries between which characters are sympathetic and which are not.
This makes for an uncomfortable yet compelling viewing and will leave you feeling hollow and possibly appalled. It is raw and at times unbearable, yet the film is constructed with a lavish amount of imagination and there will be a part of you which will will yourself to keep going with it. A landmark film and a film of a different and unwholesome nature.
The most controversial film by one of the most provocative film makers of all time, Pier Palo Pasolini's Salo, or The 120 Days Of Sodom, is a cold, bleak, clinical examination of the depravities, the horrors and the dehumanising nature of fascism. It has been the recipient of a myriad of bans, cuts, edits, re-jigs and jostles since its 1975 release. By turns numbing, harrowing and blackly humorous (honest to God...), it is always disturbing and always - ALWAYS- brilliant.
Loosely based on de Sade's still-astounding novel / catalogue of debaucheries (a sorely misunderstood work, as it happens, but that's for another time...), Pasolini updates the tale to the fascist state of Salo in Northern Italy, 1944, wherein a group of men (with the assistance of some female brothel keepers) kidnap a small army of teenagers and force them to endure the cruellest, foulest sexual attacks and tortures.
Insofar as "Plot" might be concerned, that's it. The film is structured as a series of cycles, each more wretched than the last (although it reaches a horrible peak, for my money, throughout the savage, sickening Cycle Of Sh*t).
Yes, Salo is almost unwatchable at times. Yes, it is uncompromising and relentless. But it is not, as many such pictures are, a "thrill ride" of any kind. It is not a film which titillates or arouses its viewers via its sexual or violent content - it is not a horror film in the traditional sense. It does not draw us in to its horror - it holds us at an infuriating distance, reinforcing that distance with every new disgrace. We are forever seperate from these events, from the victims, helpless and powerless to do anything beyond slack-mouthed gawking.
But we are NOT powerless, and in the end this is what Pasolini leaves us with. We are forced to witness, to understand (albeit via a highly, HIGHLY diluted viewer / artwork relationship) the depths to which men and women will sink under the weight of fascism. We see what it does to both its victims and to those seduced by its grotesque promises. What now, it asks us.
Salo is not an inhumane film for a moment - it is, rather, a film aching with a love of humanity, and with a palpable rage near to shredding every frame - an anger stemming from the fact that we can - we HAVE - allowed ourselves to become so debased.
Salo is a protest howl and it is a prayer - We have done these things, but we are better than that, and we need never go there again so long as we are vigilant.
The BFI DVD, whilst an absolute godsend at the time of release, has been superseded since by an excellent extras-heavy Region 1 effort put together by the ever-wonderful Criterion. That said, if you just want to see the film, the BFI one can be picked up for around 6 quid in many stores both online and off.
Italian, with English sub-titles:
Salo is based on a Marquis de Sade novel, set in Mussolini's fascist republic. It follows a group of teenage boys and girls who are selected for the pleasure of the politicians on the republic. A number of ex-prostitutes tells peverse stories designed to inflame the lust of the politicians, who then conduct activities of a gross sexual and violent nature, with the teenagers the victims of their actions. We also see the politicians reflect on the nature of their fasicism, with one describing it as "the only true form of anarchy".
All in all, this film is definately worth a watch, but obviously it is not advisable for everyone. It makes a worthwhile point about fascism, and is definately a fantastic artwork, but at times this film is almost unwatchable in its graphic depiction of sexual acts and violence.
Ok when I went to see this film at the Cornerhouse cinema in manchester I went under the trusted advise of a girl I knew from Halls of Residence, she was a Christian girl who wouldn't have even enjoyed seeing you tear up your steak roughly let alone this kind of filth. The film was described to me as being an artistic piece bringing to light the horror of the War and how people in power managed to abuse it to some extreme lengths. The Plot: Well the film starts off quietly and to be honest it doesn't really pick up much pace until the end few scenes. The story is that some french generals go to a mansion house in the country for 120 days and on their way visit a few of the local villages taking the nicest and prettiest girls and boys to the mansion with them (you're thinking oh how generous the must be nice men!). The way the abduct these children is brutal and terrifying. The main thing this film does is turn your stomach with thoughts of "Did this actually happen to a group of people?" and your answer would be "Yes, plus lots more on the side!". Ok so they have gone up to this big mansion house and they have chosen their victims who they proceed to keep in a state of undress and also who they abuse and their very desire. The problem with this is that the graphic detail doesn't titilate, as the gentleman jiggling in his pockets next to me most found out much to his dissapointment, but it provides you with this utterly disgusted feeling. The generals who there are 5 if my memory serves me correctly host evenings of discussion about Shit-Fetishes and under age prostitution. They then choose their victim and abuse them late into the night. The most sickening scene is when one of the generals has a 'dump on the floor' to put it mildly and then gets a young girl to eat it. Ok and then we come to their great Idea of having a party where poo is the only food and when one of the generals will marry one of the little
boys. The end climaxises into a gore fest of violence and sodomy basically and the end of the film cannot come quick enough. If you do ever have the misfortune to see this film and do not laugh at it's absurdedness then you will be extremely disturbed and probably regret the day you bothered. I really cannot explain enough how horrific this film is and I cannot imagine why there would have ever been the desire for this man to write the story let alone try to recreate the horror that may have happened during the war. Definetly a film and book to give a wide berth to and Just ponder for a second, If they made a film about little boys and girls being abused and raped graphically now would you go and watch it? Age doesn't make a film a classic what makes a film a classic is it's contents, this my friends is FILTH!
"Salo or 120 Days of Sodom" is a brutal film. It was banned in this country for thirty-one years. In that time it gained notoriety for being disgusting, obscene and extremely perverted. This film is not for the easily offended. In a sense it is a film that only film academics or fans will watch. "Salo" is very uncomfortable viewing and whilst being repulsive, it is also a superb cinematic exercise in manipulating the audience (which in my opinion is the point of the film). In 2001 the film was submitted to the BBFC (The BBFC have no legal authority. When a film is banned, the film is refused a certificate for distribution. It is illegal for a film to be distributed without a certificate. The law backs up the BBFC. But the BBFC has no legal status). The British Film Institute decided to distribute the film and several other films by the same director. There were a few minor outbursts from morality groups and newspapers. The Daily Mail has a habit of trying to ban films that will "threaten" British people for being obscene, sick etc. It did not work and the film is now available all over the nation. "Salo" was finally unleashed on to the British public. Were people throwing up and offended by the "evil and obscene" film? Like I commented before, this film is for a niche audience. You will not find it being shown as a Saturday matinee at your local cinema. The Director Pier Palo Pasolini (1923-1975) was a famous Italian film theorist, screenwriter and director. He worked for Hollywood (script doctoring for a lot of Epic Bible films that were made at Rome's Cincitta studio) and Federico Fellini in the 1950's. He came to prominence during the 1960's with several surrealist films like "Theorem". He often courted controversy with his depictions of sex (male and female) and anti-Catholic views. He directed a trilogy of films ("Trilogy of
Life") which explored medieval Italy these films were "The Decameron", "The Arabian Nights" and "The Canterbury Tales". These films were funny and satirical. Before embarking on "Salo" he said he denounced his "Trilogy of Life" films and his next film will be anti-life. "Salo" was his final film. Just after completing the film, Pasolini was robbed and killed by a rent boy. He died a grim death (Pasolini was stabbed over thirty times and then run over by his own car). His death sent shock waves through film world. They had yet to see his final "masterpiece". "Salo or 120 Days of Sodom" The film is based on the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom". I have not read the book myself (the film is more than enough). I gather the film follows the book. Four people of power, a judge, a mayor, a duke and police chief kidnap a group of young people (male and female) and take them to a mansion. The young people are subjected to rape and torture. The film is set during the dying days of Italy's involvement with the Nazi party. The British and Americans are getting set to invade Italy and Mussolini escapes to Northern Italy and sets up the fascist state of Salo. Here the four powers can do whatever they want to. The film Pasolini also draw inspiration from Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" which is the first part of "The Divine Comedy". Pasolini is going to play Virgil and escort us through Hell. Pasolini also divides each chapter of the film into "circles". The film is split into "The Circle of Manias" then "The Circle of Shit" and finally "The Circle of Blood". It is fair to say without giving the plot away that with in each "circle", the film progresses, in terms of depravity and violence. In a perverse way the film is a comed
y. Only this comedy is wicked, cruel and depending on your sense of humour, not funny in the slightest. The Direction Pasolini was one very clever man. Not only did he know a lot about the possibilities of film, he chose to shoot this film in a very quiet and unobtrusive style. The film is designed to have a certain effect on the audience. Mark Kermode, the film critic, commented that; "This film asks the audience to hate itself". I agree with that. I think the point of the film is that in a subconscious way, the viewer is joining in. Why? Simply by watching it and not turning it off. You see all the humiliation, acts of depravity but the whole point is, you watch. Like the four leaders watch. Pasolini shoots the film in long takes and in long shots. The finale is filmed in extreme long shot has if being viewed through binoculars. This makes the sickening parts of the film even more grotesque. A less subtle director like Paul Verhoeven would have filmed everything in close up. But in using long shots, Pasolini is creating a very uncomfortable viewing experience. Pasolini achieves subjectivity by being objective. This sounds like a contradiction but it isn't with this film. We see everything from the Mayor and friends point of view (not visually but through the narrative). We never get to identify or get to know any of the young people. It is a scary film because there is nobody to sympathise with at all. It is a helpless situation and the viewer must partake or turn the film off. Visually the film is very stark. The house in which the film unfolds is not an opulent palace. It is dirty and cold. Through out the film. Pasolini uses the sounds of aeroplanes to suggest that the end is approaching. Other than an epilogue in which the youths are rounded up, the film takes place entirely in the house. Ennio Morricone provided the score (there is not much music in the film). The e
nd song raises a smirk because it is upbeat and entitled "Those Foolish Things". Pasolini takes you on a descent into hell and finishes it off with a waltz number. I find this film amazingly disturbing. When I watched it for the first time, I was sickened but transfixed by what Pasolini achieved with his film. The film is a portrayal of evil but Pasolini will not judge those involved. Conclusion "Salo" is extremely uncomfortable viewing. It is also amazing filmmaking. If you want to watch a film that will change your life (for better or worse) then "Salo" is for you. If you are easily shocked at the violence in Hollywood films. Then your brain will explode when viewing this. It is a perfect film. I like this purely because it taught me how directing could be subtle and still make a point. "Salo" continues to shock and repulse. It is still banned in countries like Australia. It's just a shame that Pasolini did not live to see the faces of people that watched his final film.
Pier Paulo Pasolini was a director never afraid to court controversy. As a young man during World War II he experienced first-hand the horrors of the Republic of Salò, a corner of Italy in which Mussolini fought his last stand, and this film combines the source matter of the Marquis de Sade’s ‘120 Days of Sodom’ with these experiences and a structure based around Dante’s ‘Inferno’ to provide a compelling examination of depravity and the seemingly arbitrary distinctions which define that term. As the text of the DVD release attests, this film, whose full title is ‘Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma’, has been widely banned right up until the present day — in Australia, for example, the rare decision was taken in 1998 to RE-ban the film after it had been un-banned in 1993, and the film still causes controversy even in the US, where even recently a bookshop was prosecuted as a result of the film’s video release. The BBFC, however, who have been softening their previously Draconian stance as of late, recently allowed the film an ‘18’ certificate, and now the British Film Institute have released the film on DVD, fully uncut. THE FILM Salò is split into four sections. The first, ‘Ante Inferno’ (ante in this case used in the same way as in ‘antechamber’, to mean, roughly, “before”), sees a group of adolescents kidnapped and brought for examination before a group of Libertines, who choose the ones with no physical blemishes and discuss amongst themselves their plans for the future. The second section, ‘Circle of Manias’, features the start of events proper, as the group of youngsters are brought before the Libertines in the chateau and the rules of what is about to occur are explained to them. Then the storytellers begin their work, and the Libertines’ experiment begins. In the third section, ‘The Circ
le of Shit’, the Libertines become particularly excited by a tale told by one of the storytellers involving the stool of one of her clients and decide to modify their rules in order to take this into account. The young objects of the experiment are banned from defecating for the day, so that they may all do so at the correct time and hence provide the unconventional nourishment for the daily evening banquet. The fourth section, ‘The Circle of Blood’, sees the Libertines’ experiment reach its closure as the four watch their young victims being tortured to death, their perversity now having reached its climactic voyeuristic stage. THE DISC · Distributor: MGM Distribution in association with the British Film Institute [BFIVD510]. This is one of the latest in a series of DVDs released by the BFI, other volumes including Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’, Lotte Reiniger’s ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ and fellow Pasolini films ‘The Decameron’ and ‘The Arabian Nights’. The other volumes that I own are not co-distributed by MGM and so I would suspect that part of the copyright in this film is actually owned by this company. · Rating: 18. To be honest, I was surprised that the BBFC gave this film a certificate at all, and it is hence no riddle as to why this film received this certificate. Whilst it is certainly true that many people under the age of 18 who have had access to the Internet for a while have probably seen material equal to this or worse, Salò is still not family viewing and I would agree that it should not be seen by minors. Thankfully, the BBFC have refrained from actually cutting this film in any way, and are hence operating within their remit of classification rather than straying over the line into the field of censorship; of this I have no objection, especially in this case. · Region: 2
(PAL encoding). Region 2 is intended for Europe (including the UK) and Japan, whilst PAL is a system used by the UK and Australia, among others. Essentially, this disc will play on any region 2, multi-region or region-free player which is compatible with PAL playback — if you bought your player in the UK there should be no worries whatsoever. · Type and case: DVD5 with white laminated cardboard case case. DVD5s are the lowest capacity DVD disc of 12cm diameter, and feature a single data layer on one side of the disc which can store 4.37 gig of data approximately. The white cardboard case is rather an attractive and stylish design in my opinion, containing no front cover illustration. Instead, the title and director are displayed in a simple black font along with the BFI symbol in the top-right corner and the BBFC certificate in the left. I actually managed to affect something of an intellectual air as I approached the HMV Meadowhall counter with this disc in my grubby mitts — who would have suspected I was buying a film involving sh/t-eating? · Running time: feature 112 minutes approx. This is the full, uncensored version of the film; the discrepancy between the cinema running time and that of the DVD is because of the 4% speedup associated with PAL transfer (caused by the fact that film pulls through 24 frames per second whilst PAL operates at 25). · Picture format: 1.85:1 letterbox widescreen. The print on the disc is presented in the film’s original theatrical exhibition ratio of 1.85:1. The quality is not excellent by DVD standards, but when one considers the nature of the film this is understandable and the quality is certainly not atrocious. It is not easy to give a precise account of the quality of the print simply because the quality is so variable throughout. In some scenes the colour is vibrant and convincing, whilst in others is appears washed out and faded. The director has made much u
se of natural light in exterior scenes and these appear slightly darker than is traditional nowadays, but of course there is always the possibility that this is an artistic decision rather than a fault of the DVD transfer. To be honest, though, the visual quality is probably better than I was expecting, and when the BFI state on the reverse of the packaging that “bfi video titles are mastered from the finest quality materials available” I would have little reason to doubt them. The one aspect of the print of which I most certainly do disapprove is the non-anamorphic presentation. The BFI make great play on their website of how they bravely submitted the film for classification to the BBFC, and they have obviously put considerable thought into this DVD release. Precisely why, however, the producers could not have taken that one step further and enhanced the print for 16:9 televisions is a little beyond me … especially considering that this release would seem to be directly targeted at the somewhat anorak-ish film collector — a group highly likely to be possessed of a widescreen TV — in both its content and presentation. The fact that the print is non-anamorphic is the sole reason I decided upon a three-star rating for this disc despite regarding the release as solid on the whole, so great a disappointment was this. · Audio: Dolby Digital stereo, Italian. The soundtrack here is the original Italian soundtrack, produced by complete post-dubbing as was the European tradition at the time. Voices are not completely naturalistic at all times, and the soundtrack’s aural depth is relatively poor by modern standards. This, however, actually adds to the detached aura deliberately and calculatedly exuded by the film, and is of course no fault of the DVD transfer which is being completely faithful to the original theatrical film. · Subtitles: English, removable. Since the film is presented in Italian the remo
vable subtitles are essential for English-speakers. I do not recall any transcription errors within the subtitles, and the text is well-presented, however the subtitles are positioned slightly lower on the screen than I would have preferred, falling below the edge of the screen when I zoomed into the print using my television’s default “16:9 zoom” mode — which I would, of course, not have had to do were the print anamorphic (not that I would keep bringing that up) — thus necessitating further annoying experimentation to find the most suitable screen mode. · Extras: Director’s Foreword, Biography, Poster Gallery, Weblink, Also Available. The Director’s Foreword is a short passage written by Pier Paulo Pasolini in which he gives a brief overview of what he was attempting to achieve with the film, and particularly of the film’s avowed faithfulness to de Sade’s original novel despite the changed setting. It is presented as a sequences of text screens which change automatically and which are accompanied by a narration by Nickolas Grace. The Biography of Pier Paulo Pasolini is presented as a series of still text screens through which the user proceeds by selecting a ‘next’ option on the screen. The biography is not lengthy, but it is interesting and well researched with a wide variety of subjects covered, including the director’s uneasy relationship with the Vatican, his expulsion from the Communist Party and his eventual murder very shortly after the completion of Salò. Rather than the usual still images, the Poster Gallery on this disc is actually a 50-seconf video montage, featuring a rather small number of posters for the film, taken from different countries, gradually being zoomed into and out of. Ultimately, I found the experience rather pointless, but for the sake of completeness a Poster Gallery is always a welcome addition to a DVD release, even if it is un
conventionally presented. The Weblink will, of course, only work when the disc is played in the DVD-ROM drive of a computer with an Internet connection. The website linked to is www.bfi.org.uk/salo, a page which actually features an array of interesting information about the film and its path to British video release. The Also Available section is a still text page advertisement for other BFI DVD and VHS releases of Pasolini films. DVD releases advertised for Summer 2001 are ‘The Decameron’, ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and ‘The Arabian Nights’; at the time of writing only the first two of these had actually been released to my knowledge. · Menus: the menus are static and simply designed, being based around stills from the film itself; they are, however, functional, error-free and perfectly adequate for the task at hand. One good point, however, is that the menus are presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio — I may not like having to fiddle around with the settings to find the best TV mode to watch the film in due to the non-anamorphic presentation, but at least I do not have to change that setting again every time I go back to the menu screens! CONCLUSION Salò is essentially a film about the way in which perversity can so alter the very perception of other human beings in an individual that those others are seen merely as objects and the crimes committed against those others as amusing laboratory experiments which take no account of the recipient and are utterly detached. As Pasolini himself alludes in his foreword, de Sade’s characters are essentially SS men in civilian clothing, and The 120 Days of Sodom is almost a damnation of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their fascist allies written before it even happened. The Marquis de Sade saw the potential in humanity for what most would describe as utter evil, and any who doubted him in his own time would doubtless have been force
d to withdraw their objections had they lived to see what humanity was to accomplish in the early 20th century. The works of Dante and de Sade are not very familiar to me, and although several more of Pasolini’s films on DVD should by now be on their way to me through the post this is the first film of his I have actually seen, and so I do not feel particularly qualified to critique the major themes of the works of any of these individuals (other reviews in other Dooyoo sections will no doubt provide this information for the curious reader). What was obvious to me, however, from just one viewing of the film was that the utter horror of what we see is not so much in the actions we witness, but in the attitudes of those who watch. Due to the deliberate portrayal of the characters, we find it difficult to feel sympathy for virtually any of the victims — this goes some way towards putting us on a par with the film’s Libertine hosts, hence making the viewer carry some of the guilt associated with the crimes portrayed. This, I believe, is the film’s true controversy, and this DVD, despite its undoubted faults such as non-anamorphic presentation, is a worthy medium through which to enter the fray.
Salo is one of those notorious films that was banned in this country for years. It has the reputation of being so gut-wrenchingly unpleasant that only the most dedicated art-house enthusiasts would want to watch it, and that it's a film to be approached with immense seriousness. Don't go to see this if you're in any way a frivolous person just out for a few cheap thrills, or because, god forbid, you want to be entertained. No, to see this film you're really supposed to be very clever indeed, and morally above reproach. The BBFC has finally passed it uncut for video release. How kind of them, allowing adults to watch a film made for adults (but that's a different issue entirely). So it's finally possible to watch this monstrosity. Which I have done. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I was expecting to sit through it, bored and occasionally nauseated, but determined to make it to the end just so that I could say I had, but it was definitely worth it. (So in writing about this film I'll have to mention things that could be offensive to some people. If you're one of those people, you may not want to read this. I think in that case it's a safe bet that you won't want to watch Salo anyway.) It's an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. As in the book, four 'libertines', respectable members of society (a judge, a bishop, a duke and... um... another one, I forget) gather several young men and women together and imprison them in a mansion, where the four libertines get to do whatever they want to them. They also take along some ageing prostitutes to tell dirty stories. That's about as far as the plot goes. Pasolini, the ever-controversial director, updates the story, setting it in fascist Italy. So is it the most repulsive film ever made? Of course not. I've been getting this quite a bit lately, where I get to see a hugely controversial film or play, re
ally brace myself to be shaken to the very core, and then sail through it relatively unscathed. I suspect it's the influence of horror movies and the Internet. There's nothing in Salo that beats the kind of unpleasantness you'd see in Cannibal Holocaust (if the BBFC would ever... oh, forget it). That said, this isn't a film for the weak of heart or the easily offended. Just because it's not the most unpleasant thing I've ever seen, I still wouldn't recommend it to my mother. It isn't just that the horrific moments in Salo aren't as extreme as in other, more lurid films. The way these moments are depicted is very detached. The camera is very still, and most of the unpleasant bits are filmed in long shot. The final glut of torture, rape and death is only shown through binoculars as each of the four masters in turn gets to watch as the others work their evil pleasures on their victims. In addition, none of the victims are really given personalities, so you don't relate to them, and don't really feel involved in their suffering. The only genuinely stomach churning scenes are those involving the eating of faeces. Really nasty at first, although again the rather detached mood that the film adopts allows the viewer to come to terms with it and watch it without flinching. In fact, the coprophilic banquet scene is so far over the top that it becomes quite funny. One thing I didn't expect was that there is a fair amount of humour on Salo. The stories told by the ageing courtezans, for instance, are funny, because they're so over the top, and also because the actresses involved play the scenes for all they're worth. There's also a good, ironic use of music. There's little music in the film, but what there is usually takes the form of rather gentle waltzes. The film ends with a version of These Foolish Things. I was expecting the victims not to have characters, really, as there are so man
y of them. But I wasn't expecting the libertines themselves to also have minimal personalities. They wander through it all with little but a faint gleam of lust in their eyes, occasionally getting angry or cracking peculiarly incomprehensible jokes. The young victims are even shown as more lively than their corrupt masters. They giggle quite a bit (at the start, anyway), and sing, and even indulge in a series of midnight trysts with one another. If, ultimately, they're powerless to resist the fate that their evil molestors have in store for them, there's also a sense that the libertines themselves have little control over their actions. They're often seen to be acting under the impulses of uncontrollable lust, but are never satisfied. The fascist system controls the masters just as much as the servants; they're as powerless to resist as their victims. Unlike, say, I Spit On Your Grave, or other "video nasties" that deal with sexual abuse, Salo is a very intelligent film that will actually make you think about what's going on rather than inviting you to take prurient delight in it. Since the viewer will become immured to the various unpleasant sequences in the film, and even be amused by some of the deliberately ridiculous excesses (as with the banquet scene mentioned above), ultimately we, too, become complicit in the system that has created these monstrosities in the first place. I think that this is where the "moral message" of Salo is to be found. It doesn't bother to condemn the actions of the fascists in torturing their victims, because it's obvious that they're evil. Instead it draws the viewer down to their level by deadening us to the acts of sexual violence being shown on screen. We become just another part of the system: by the end, we, like the main characters, can sit back and watch with dispassion as a man is tortured by having flames held under his genitals, or when a woman spr
eadeagled on the ground is raped. On the whole I'd recommend Salo to anyone who'd be prepared to give it a chance. If you think it all sounds absolutely horrifying or morally indefensible, I'd suggest you give it a miss. Certainly not a film to watch if you're looking for titillation, Salo is thought-provoking without being boring, but not nearly as impenetrable or disgusting as I'd always assumed it would be.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (known in Italian as Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) provoked howls of outrage and execration on its original release in 1975, and the controversy rages to this day. Until the British Board of Film Classification finally ventured a certificate in 2000, the movie could only be shown at private cinema clubs, and even then in severely mutilated form. The relaxation of the censors' shears allows you to see for yourself what the fuss was about, but be warned--Salò will test the very limits of your endurance. Updating the Marquis de Sade's phantasmagorical novel of the same title from 18th-century France to fascist Italy at the end of World War II, writer-director Pasolini relates a bloodthirsty fable about how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Four upper-class libertines gather in an elegant palazzo to inflict the extremes of sexual perversion and cruelty upon a hand-picked collection of young men and women. Meanwhile, three ageing courtesans enflame the proceedings further by spinning tales of monstrous depravity. The most upsetting aspect of the film is the way Pasolini's coldly voyeuristic camera dehumanises the victims into lumps of random flesh. Though you may feel revulsion at the grisly details, you aren't expected to care much about what happens to either master or slave. In one notorious episode, the subjugated youths are forced to eat their own excrement--a scene almost impossible to watch, even if you know the meal was actually composed of chocolate and orange marmalade. (Pasolini mischievously claimed to be satirising our modern culture of junk food.) Salò is the ultimate vision of apocalypse--and as if in confirmation, the director was himself brutally murdered just before its premiere. You can reject the movie as the work of an evil-minded pornographer, but you won't easily forget it. --Peter Matthews