Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
(Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) (1976)
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * *

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In the final days of the Second World War, in the Fascist Republic of Salò, a magistrate, a duke, a president, and a bishop imprison a group of young men and women and indulge their cruelty by tormenting and humiliating their captives.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò is a savagely dark, brutally disturbing film. By reminding the viewer of human cruelty, of how the possession of power enables men to indulge their sadism, and even how those without power are corrupted by being made subject to their fellows, the director evokes an overwhelming sense of terror and repulsion.


Over the course of his movie, Pasolini chronicles the various atrocities committed by the four notables, and those serving them, on the men and women they have abducted. The youths are tortured, degraded, forced to perform divers sexual acts, made to consume excrement, and murdered. Horror follows horror until the viewer is so battered by the barrage of cruel images he is left physically fatigued and emotionally spent by the experience of watching the film.


The depictions of incessant acts of savagery evoke overwhelming feelings of abhorrence and revulsion, but Pasolini does not rely exclusively on such depictions to elicit these emotions. His portrayals of the interactions among the victims and their reactions to the situation in which they have found themselves also heighten the viewer's feelings of both fear and repugnance. Several of the captives, for example, become involved in the victimization of their fellows, accepting the values of their exploiters and participating in the rules they have established. Instead of showing us a world of evil, villainous masters and good, innocent victims, Pasolini reveals a reality in which even the victims are capable of cruelty and inhumanity. The viewer's horror is not directed then to some tiny cadre of fiends, but towards mankind as a whole. By taking such an approach, Pasolini makes Salò into a far more uncomfortable experience than it would otherwise have been.


In fact, the director skillfully uses a variety of different means to arouse the moviegoer's emotions. While, for instance, his film is visually banal, even its very ordinariness increases the sense of horror aroused by the events being portrayed. Instead of emphasizing the unusualness of these events, their difference from those of the world of ordinary life, Pasolini presents the seemingly endless atrocities as though they were completely commonplace.


The experience of watching Pasolini's Salò is nearly unbearable. The movie is utterly repugnant and, consequently, both affecting and memorable. No one who sees Salò will forget the film, but few will have any desire to endure the experience of seeing it again.

Review by Keith Allen

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