Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Screen 95 of 10 reviews

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

1975

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Poster
  • As a film that encourages and exploits our feelings of helplessness as not just individuals but citizenry, Salò may be as powerful and great a work of art as George Orwell’s novel 1984 (which has been back in the conversation since Trump’s election), but it’s so troubling—and literally nauseating—that it would have as much of a chance of being consumed and understood on any kind of wide scale today as it was when it was (barely) released, and often summarily banned, around the world in 1975.

  • Salò is an example of alternative cinema but one can hardly put the label of exploitation on it; and Pasolini is of course a major example of the inconvenient intellectual, usually considered an auteur, but one can hardly keep Salò constrained within the boundaries of auteur cinema. It is precisely this short circuit that makes Pasolini’s last cinematic work even more interesting and worthy of further investigation.

  • Pasolini’s intellectual despair is manifest in every image of this film, still difficult to watch after 40 years, in part because Salò’s extraordinary beauty works in counterpoint with the cruelty of its content. The film is most difficult because of its uncompromised premises about the fate of humanity under capitalism.

  • I am astounded by the formal brilliance of it, by the icy inexorability of the descent into madness. I am dazzled by the way in which Donati’s costumes, Dante Ferretti’s peerless settings, and Ennio Morricone’s impeccably unsettling sound world somehow magisterially combine to confer an ominous and absolute reality on the performances, both the extravagant, preposterous mannerisms of the world-weary professionals and the docility of the bewildered extras...

  • There are few artists like Pasolini who have traveled to the outer reaches of language and self, to the peripheries of the known world and the outlying islands of the ancient and the mythical, to bring us face-to-face with the present and ourselves. It is not always comfortable, as Salòexemplifies.

  • Even those well acquainted with Pasolini’s taste for controversy could hardly have expected the extreme nature of Salò. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s most notorious book, The 120 Days of Sodom, Salò is not only Pasolini’s most “unacceptable” work but one of the most chilling films in the history of cinema.

  • Shifting the viewer’s identification to the killers, Pasolini suggests that the classical values of Western civilization and the ostensibly progressive modernity that’s based on them are steeped in the blood of innocents. This film is essential to have seen but impossible to watch: a viewer may find life itself defiled beyond redemption by the simple fact that such things can be shown or even imagined.

  • The film stands on its own as an anti-fascist and anti-power statement, if a somewhat raw and confronting one. Never have abusive power and bourgeois decadence been given such full reign within a single film. The question is: how do you attack fascism? By being against it, or by showing it in all its “glory”?

  • Fastidiously attuned to the denial of the comforting release of either eroticism or expulsion, Pasolini's boudoirs of perversion lack De Sade's scarlet hedonism. Quite the opposite, his boners reveal only the presence of spiritual rigor mortis.

  • Roland Barthes noted that in spite of all its objectionable elements (he pointed out that any film that renders Sade real and fascism unreal is doubly wrong), this film should be defended because it "refuses to allow us to redeem ourselves." It's certainly the film in which Pasolini's protest against the modern world finds its most extreme and anguished expression. Very hard to take, but in its own way an essential work.

More Links