Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Pasolini, 1975)

We'll start this one off easy, just to warn off the squeamish...

Possibly filmdom's most disturbing creation is Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, based on The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Some of you probably know I am a big fan of l'Divine Marquis, having read most of his major works (those available in English, that is). I am typically put off by any film claiming to be about him, his stories, or "inspired by." There are tons of bad ones, and only four good that I am familiar with; Marat/Sade (Peter Brook, 1967), de Sade (Cy Enfield, 1969), Eugénie de Franval (Jesus Franco, 1970), and Salò.

The picture* above is pretty typical of a Salò viewer in action. If there was an award for artsiest gross-out film, Salò would take on all comers. It is highly depraved, scatological, violent, and sickening. It is in fact everything the book was. Here is the basic story.

Four libertine fascists in Italy capture young men and women for a holiday of perversion. They kidnap some young people, hire some thugs with an open mind towards sexual preference, and some old prostitutes to tell stories of their depraved life. As the stories unfold, the libertines act out the atrocities, finishing the festivities with a mass killing of their captives, as well as some of the hired help.

Pasolini's version is very similar to Sade's, save that in the book the holiday is taken at Chateau Silling, high in the Alps. They are secluded and escape is impossible. In the film, they are at a secluded palace, but are able to venture outside. Sade's vision is literally dark. You imagine rooms lit only by firelight; the bricked up windows hiding them from the world. The most serious crimes are committed in an underground vault. It is claustrophobic. Pasolini uses a lot of sunlight, making the crimes seem all the more evil by putting them in broad daylight. Here the greatest crimes are performed in the courtyard. It is almost agoraphobic. The libertines here, with the backing of the fascist regime, are able to stand boldly in the open; they are unafraid of being seen.

Pasolini does recall the claustrophobia of Sade in the end. There are two things Sadean villains love as much as committing crimes; being seen, and watching. Sade's stories often discuss the libertine's penchant for voyeurism, but in what we have of the book there is little acting out on that mark. Pasolini picks this up, having the libertines take turns at the telescope to watch his fellows at work. This does two things; it creates a sense of enclosure, and fortunately, blocks much of the more gruesome action from our eyes.

Now. Who should watch this movie? That is a hard question. As a film, it is a well made piece European arthouse fare. As a reworking of Sade, it is spot on. If either of those items interest you, I would watch it. If your interest lies in torture porn, mondo, or gross out films, you will likely be a bit shocked. I don't typically enjoy any of those genres, and this one seemed a bit harder to take. If you are a bit squeamish, or ever want to enjoy Tootsie Rolls again... avoid Salò at all costs.

Want more? You can see another Sodom/Salò comparison at Sublime Depravity I wrote some while back.

* I made this image, BTW. To the best of my knowledge, Salò has not made an appearance on The Dish.


Unknown said...

That picture is hilarious! I plan on reviewing this myself soon...just waiting for the right time when my stomach can handle a second viewing.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I want to watch it again, but just can't get up the nerve.

California Keys said...

I wouldn't mind watching it if Topanga stood next to the screen the whole time...

MK Storyteller said...

SALO is my Mendoza mark movie, a brilliant masterpiece by which I measure most films I watch. Have you seen Henri Xhonneux's MARQUIS? Twisted stuff.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I have seen Xhonneux's MARQUIS! That makes you and me, in my experience :-D

I tried finding it on DVD for a while, but likely gave up, either due to price or availability. I have a Region 0 DVD player, so would have no problem if I could get it.

I thought it was rather sweet, though indeed twisted. They treated Sade with some love, which he doesn't always get. I also enjoyed "de Sade" with Kier Dulia and Senta Berger. There are a few versions on YouTube, and I think it is on Netflix. Cheesy, to be sure, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Enough to buy a Spanish lobby card; though that may have been that it is Sade related more than anything.

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