‘All things are good when taken to the extreme’ says one of the characters in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final and most controversial film, it’s a statement that goes a long way to sum up the great Italian directors film career. I have enjoyed much of Pasolini’s body of work but even I must admit that Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) content and imagery is extreme! ‘It retains the power to shock, repel and distress almost 40 years after its release, but remains a cinematic milestone – culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning’
The movie exposes a degenerate mini world where sexual pleasure and death are the only significant things. It’s based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade but is transposed from 18th century France to the last days of the Republic of Salo where Benito Mussolini made a last stand at the end of World War 2. (Pasolini’s brother was actually killed in Salo a formative event that haunted him all his life!). The novel has been described as pornographic and erotic and although it was written in 1785 was not published until the 20th century.
Pasolini’s adaptation of the story retains de Sade’s original spirit. Four wealthy and powerful male libertines, The Duke, The Bishop The Magistrate and The President desire to experience the ultimate in depraved sexual gratification. To this end they kidnap nine teenage girls and nine teenage boys and take them to a large inaccessible Mansion for four months. Also in attendance are four middle-aged prostitutes three of whom recount stories to arouse the four men of power who in turn subject the teenagers to a series of sexual tortures and humiliations. The forth prostitute accompanies the telling of the stories, entitled Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood, on a piano.
|The three ladies tell their arousing tales.|
The film was made by Pasolini as a metaphor for Fascism (the worship of power for its own sake) and consumer capitalism and its production of junk food (the infamous scene where a naked young girl is forced to eat faeces) as well as his normal anticlerical stance (one of the libertine’s is a Bishop and we witness a wedding ceremony between two of the teenagers that is consummated by the libertine’s and not the bridegroom). The final scene, where the DOP’s camera replicates a pair of binoculars looking through a window seems to represent the final day’s of the Fascist regime where every decent thing that is left is destroyed and we witness strangulation, scalping, tongues cut out and nipples burned with red hot pokers all set to the music of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
A powerful and disturbing film that will never be repeated, no director will ever again give us quite such an erotically profound political statement! Pasolini paid for this with his life. Shortly after it was finished he was murdered in suspicious circumstances that some observers say is related to his making of Salo others say it was due to his sexual orientation. Would I recommend you to watch this film? Yes I would pacifically because it is the final piece in a very great directors body of work and is ‘still relevant, still troubling’ and I would like to think that it still gives us all food for thought - wealth and corrupted power should never be the only criteria of our rulers.