There is nothing I can say or do that could prepare you for this journey. Many films have reached legendary status with simple lines of dialogue, camerawork, tense scenes, character decisions, etc. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom has all of this and then some. Scenes that will make your stomach turn inside out and wring itself dry; dialogue so demonic in its calmness, it could shake mountains to mere gravel; camerawork steady and shot from a distance that you will only notice is shaky when you realize that you’re the one shaking; and character decisions that make even the most grim horror story look tame. You have been warned.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom takes place crica 1944 to 1945 in Italy, when a group of four fascist libertines take nine boys and nine girls to a secluded building. Upon their arrival, the four announce that the freedoms of the kids are now null and void, for they may as well already be dead to the outside world. What happens following this is 120 days of demented mental, physical, and sexual torture for the eighteen captives.
Salò’s status as a film is legendary amongst those who have heard of it. It’s heavily debated, heavily disturbing, and very difficult to watch. It is the final work of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and in many ways, it is a masterpiece. As mentioned earlier in this review, some films get famous for one or two things; well, Salò is famous as a whole but most notably for the “Circle of Shit” portion of the film. I won’t go into that, because its best you find out for yourself. The film itself is a very experimental piece. This is obvious from the beginning. In fact, as a whole, it stands more as a philosophical statement rather than just a movie we sit down and watch. The one statement that is more obvious than any is that man’s nature is to feed off of the weak. The four libertines make this very obvious in the beginning, as we watch them making their plans, knowing that in such a day and age, they can get away with it all because they hold the power as fascists. There are even parts where they openly confess their evil with one another, calling it contagious.
The acting in Salò took a lot of bravery. What these people had to subject themselves to even as actors is something that deserves much praise. The victims, the villains — they live these roles. Everyone is so convincing, making the film all the harder to watch but all the better as an experience. Names are used sparingly in here, and we never learn the real names of the tormenters. Perhaps that is because the fascist needs no name as a tyrant and victims need no name, for they are everywhere getting screwed like this every day in metaphorical and literal senses. The victims are easy to see and relate to for those in power, and with power, some will always exercise it over the weak, as displayed in Salò. Of course, there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it. If the victims resist, they will be killed, but they may be killed even if they sit back and take it.
Shots and colors really stand out here. Many rape scenes (and there are a lot of them) are shot from a distance. We want to do something about it, but we cannot; we are sitting far away as these people are being tortured. As we look into the background, we notice that orange is a dominant color throughout. What makes orange? Yellow and red. Blood and bile, anyone? Scenes almost feel like they are getting further and further away as the film goes on. The ending is shot through binoculars, with the fascists smiling on as they stare down at their captives.
Salò is an important film that does a good job with making several statements. The one that stands out most to me is sadism and how many get off on the pain and suffering of others, especially those in control. This is a film that should be watched, even though it is a very difficult film to sit through. It is very slow, and yet it doesn’t feel like it takes place over 120 days. Rather, it feels like a lengthy three, because there are only three circles that the captives suffer through. Still, once the ending scenes commence, the impact of the 120 begins to come full circle. Do see this film, because it deserves to be seen. But be warned; it is a very unpleasant yet necessary experience.
Read A.J. Hakari’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom review here.