Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want sex slaves.

During the end of WW II in a northern city of occupied Italy a group of bourgeoisie men and women round up a group of teenage boys and girls and take them to an isolated mansion where they are forced to become sex slaves. They are also inflicted with cruel tortures in this story based on the writings of Marquis De Sade.

The film is interesting, but only up to a point. Director Pasolini’s natural lighting fetish really works here and he makes it into an art form. His ability to find the perfect moment in the day to shoot the scene and be able to frame the action within the shadows is amazing and along with the color schemes gives it a very distinctive look and an unusual atmosphere.

The acting by the adults is amazing as they project evilness without flaw. The perverted stories they tell in some ways is more shocking than the actual scenes and the casual way they go about their sick behavior achieves an unprecedented level.

The story itself has some good insights. It shows the veneer of civilized behavior and how the passive nature of the victims and society as a whole only helps to allow evil to flourish. There’s also the main point which is that evil is truly a part of the human make-up and hides itself in everybody and can come out if provoked including the victims themselves.

Yet the film makes its point and then hammers it home without pause. The non-stop perversity becomes excessive and the redundancy eventually makes the shock value and message meaningless. Showing the background of these captors might have helped given it more of a balance.

I have nothing against those who wish to ‘push the envelope’ and there is nothing that says movies need to be tasteful, or even entertaining, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Pasolini simply used the material as an excuse to explore his own dark fantasies. Of course DeSade’s actual writings were far more twisted and unsettling then anything you see here and the film is a significantly toned down version.

Actual teenagers were used and there is an abundance of nudity and perversity. Something like this could never have been made here in the states and exactly how it ever got made is more interesting than the film itself. If there was ever a movie begging for a “Making of…” documentary it’s this one. It is also interesting to note that Pasolini was mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver just a few days before the film’s official release.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

One response to “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

  1. Pingback: Clownhouse (1989) | Scopophilia

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