Salo’ o le 120 giornate di sodoma(1975)
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Stars: Paolo Bonacelli, Aldo Velletti, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Quintavalle, Catarina Boratto and others
Salo’ o le 120 giornate di sodoma or the 120 days of Sodom is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last work and it remains one of the most controversial films ever made till date. Salo’ is a dramatized reconstruction of Marquis De Sade’s medieval novel, “120 days of Sodom”, and set in pre-modern fascist Italy.
In mid 1940’s, a portion of Italy known as the republic of Salo’ is occupied by a Fascist government. In the fascist republic of Salo’, four dissolute, fascist and evil men of power and wealth, the Duke (played by Paolo Bonacelli), the President (played by Aldo Valletti), the Bishop (played by Giorgio Cataldi) and the Magistrate (played by Umberto Quintavalle) hire four young men as their soldiers, to kidnap the most physically attractive teenagers (9 males and 9 females) and bring them to their mansion. In the mansion, the teen inmates are subjected to unseen and unimaginable sexual, psychological and violent torment. Through debauchery and the exploitation of their victims, accompanied by the narration of the depraved tales of three middle aged female prostitutes(played by Caterina Boratto, Elsa Di Giorgi and Hélène Surgère) and a pianist(played by Sonia Saviange), the four fascists seek masochistic euphoria and festivity. The orchestrated atrocities in the mansion are presented in four chapters (influenced by Dante’s “Divine Comedy”), the Ante-inferno, the circle of manias, the circle of shit and the circle of blood leading to a gruelling and blood curdling finale.
Salo’ is easily one of the most disturbing and grotesque creations in history. It is also one of the most wholehearted films engraved in the art of cinema. Salo’ is Pasolini’s most profound achievement and as a pure auteur, he manages to proffer his maverick philosophy in the most absolute form. Salo’ conveys two extremely important points. The first point is with regard to the human nature and the second point is with regard to the reality of violence. Human beings are complex beings with puzzling psychological manifestations. Our psyches varyingly camouflage, adapting to different scenarios. What could the nature of our truest form be? What is the characteristic of a human being with absolute power over other human beings? A human basked in such an amount of overpowering invincibility and authority would bring out their truest form that is, hubris and degenerative perversion. That is precisely what Pasolini wanted to convey through Salo’ with fascist political allegories. In his own words, “sadomasochism is an eternal category of man”. The second point of concern is the reality of violence. Salo’ has an anti-cinematic and revolutionary approach towards violence. The depiction of violence in conventional cinema is quite questionable. It’s fashionable, intriguing and in most cases, spectacular! However, this is quite contrary to what is experienced in real life. In reality, violence is devastating, morbid and a repulsive occurrence. We do not fantasize visualizing violence as a treat and are convincingly far from fantasizing facing even the minuscule of the horrors. Yet, violence has earned a charming place in cinema. Whether it is blistering explosions or skilled duels, violence in that kind of a cinematic media is not recognized as catastrophic and this is unduly problematic. Salo’ solves this important issue efficiently, remarkably and tantalizingly yet, respectfully.
To put it in simple terms, Salo’ is a profoundly thought provoking film and its artistic prowess, featuring Pasolini’s ravaging visual construction coupled with Ennio Morricone’s haunting suites and strangling tour de force philosophy can fully be realized only when it is viewed with an open mind and an empty stomach.