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Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini) 1975

    Made in 1975 and directed by Pasolini (his final film), Salo is based on Marquis DeSade's 120 Days of Sodom (which I've never read) , but places the degradation in that book in a different context : fascist Italy. I thought it was an effective, if over-the-top, skewering of the evils of a fascist dictatorship, especially as it is portrayed as it is here (at the end of WWII, losing, and with nothing to lose). The film opens with the rounding up and inspection of a group of  teenagers. The most attractive are selected and whisked off to a castle where they are subjected to several sex acts by the province's president and guests, then systematically tortured and killed. 

    I suppose the film's infamous because of its depictions of homosexuality, child (they seem to be about 16-20) nudity, scatology, torture, and the like, but Pasolini's camera rarely show us these scenes in close-up, so we're able to remain, thankfully, a bit detached and process what we're seeing intellectually rather than emotionally. I suppose I was a bit trained by the film's reputation to expect to see that sort of thing, so I wasn't exceptionally shocked. That's sort of the point though... throughout the film, we're made to watch atrocities, yet we continue to watch silently. Even worse, the parade of cruelty grows somewhat tedious as the film goes on.  It makes it a little clearer how something so horrible as the Holocaust could occur. It becomes apparent that the film itself is not evil, rather that the film tries to show us something evil (fascism) and to do so requires some uncomfortable moments.

    All in all, I was impressed how well the film was done. It made it's point quite well (if excessively). It's true that it has a scene in which an imprisoned girl is made to urinate on one of the nobility, but in the context of the film, it makes sense. We understand that here the director is telling us that the ruling class gets off on the degradation of its subjects. The film is quite well-acted and shot, and there is a truly excellent score by Ennio Morricone,  but it's definitely more admirable than enjoyable (though there are some wry moments of humor). Clearly, the film isn't exploitation, however, I definitely wouldn't suggest it to anyone who's offended easily, even if I was more intellectually engaged than offended while watching it.

* * * 1/2

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman