Salò: Or The 120 Days Of Sodom


Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini – Written by Sergio Citti

Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Aldo Valletti and Umberto Paolo Quintavalle

Salò was made by a Pier Paolo Pasolini back in 1975. It’s a somewhat typical film for him, although he definitely went a few steps further for his last work. As example, Pigsty (1969) provided the famous tagline ‘I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy’ – said during the execution of a young cannibal. He was always controversial, constantly hassled, arrested and prosecuted for his work. Pasolini is still seen as probably the most controversial film maker ever; but also a visionary and major voice throughout the 20th century that refused to shy away.

The story is split in to four elements, based on Dante’s Inferno – part of his 18th century epic poem Divine Comedy – the anti-inferno and the circles of mania, shit and blood. It’s the fall of Mussolini’s Italy in 1944, as their world is coming to an end; four wealthy, corrupt fascist libertines decide to go out in one last hoorah. They kidnap eighteen boys and girls from the people they see as Communist and subject them to 120 days of extreme violence, sodom, sadism and sexual, physical and mental torture.

Praised by many film historians and critics, this film explores the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality and fascism. It was banned, pretty much everywhere – still is in some places – and not released in some countries at all. Thankfully we have the BFI, dedicated to providing access to all film.

A lot of people see this as purely sick and pointless, they miss the point. Horror and violence in film is softened for our enjoyment, that’s what is sick. We as an audience cheer the hero as he murders ‘the bad guy’, we get excited and thrilled at the sight of mental and physical torture. In film, violence is never violent enough, horror never horrific enough; this is done so We as the audience can cheer, applaud, love and enjoy the acts that degrade us as a species. Pasolini with Salò was brave enough to show horror and violence how it is in reality, horrific and violent, a ruiner of lives, not something we should be paying to watch and enjoy.

The set design is worth a mention, though you probably won’t notice it. The frames full of beautiful and original Cubist, Bauhaus, Moderne and Futurist furnishing, murals and art. But, then again, it was by Dante Ferretti, now famous for working on films like Gangs of New York (2002) and Hugo (2011). It’s not a surprise Martin Scorsese came across Ferretti’s work, he’s a huge fan of many Italian cinema movements, as well as, in fact, the avant-garde.

Honestly, I don’t recommend this film. Despite it being an essential for anybody interested in film, the theory or history of; and despite being voted one of the best ever by the likes of Haneke, Scorsese and hundreds of others, it’s definitely something you have to go in to yourself. As said, this film was released 1975, the same year Pasolini was murdered for both his political views and work in film.

It is without doubt a masterpiece of cinema – but one that shall repulse you.


– Kieran Stanworth

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