Sunday, 5 September 2010

Salo (The 120 Days of Sodom) (1975)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final movie made before his brutal murder in November 1975 was a complete contrast in every way to his three previous movies – The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights. Those three films, often referred to as Pasolini’s trilogy of life, were a celebration of innocent sexuality. With Salo (based on the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom) Pasolini took that innocence, buggered it to death, burned the body and pissed on the corpse…

The plot of Salo is a simple one – four dignitaries (Duke, Bishop, Chief Magistrate and President) abduct a bunch of adolescents, hole up in a sprawling chateau in the province of Salo towards the end of the Second World War and spend several days being aroused by tales told by a trio of local whores before indulging their debased sexual urges and ultimately embarking up a final wave of sexual mutilation and execution.

Whilst many movies lose their power to shock over time, Salo has lost none of it’s intensity in the 35 years since it was first unleashed. Broken down into four episodes (ante-inferno, circle of mania, circle of excrement and circle of blood) the dignitaries exercise their power and dominance over their meekly accepting detainees by regularly molesting them, forcing them to satisfy their impulses and desires, treating them like fettered animals and holding a banquet with a main course of human faeces. By the conclusion each dignitary takes the role of distant voyeur whilst the remaining trio torture and kill a number of their captives in the courtyard.

Often mistakenly referred to as pornographic, Salo contains virtually constant full frontal male and female nudity (the teenagers are rarely clothed) but whilst uncomfortable to watch it certainly doesn’t stray into hardcore or XXX territory and is certainly more art film than porn. Salo is one of those movies that sharply divides opinion and it’s not hard to see why with copious episodes of sodomy, urophagia and coprophilia. A gruelling film that has no moments of respite or humour, regularly soudtracked by the atonal drone of overhead bombers!

Anyone wishing to visit (or re-visit) this tour-de-force of a movie need look no further than the phenomenal double disc blu ray presentation released in the UK by the BFI transferred in high definition from the original 35 mm negative.

Rob Bewick

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