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Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

January 29th, 2019   |   Updated on March 30th, 2019

In World War II Italy, four fascist libertines round up nine adolescent boys and girls and subject them to one hundred and twenty days of physical, mental and sexual torture.

Nazi-Fascist Northern Italy, 1943-44. Four senior members of government, aided by henchmen and Nazi soldiers, kidnap a group of young men and women. They hold them for 120 days, subjecting them to all manner of torture, perversion and degradation

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Movie Reviews: “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Movie Review: ReelViews

The first thing to state about Salo, the oft-banned and infamous final movie of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, is that it has a purpose beyond depicting a catalog of taboos and grotesqueries rarely seen on screen. With Salo, which has a secondary title of “The 120 Days of Sodom” and is loosely based on a work of the Marquis de Sade, Pasolini has constructed an elaborate allegory that uses 1944-45 fascism in Italy to represent all the ills of the modern world (circa 1975) where corruption and decadence have gained unlimited power. Nothing seen in Salo is intended to be taken literally; viewers are to look at it as an intentionally grim and repulsive physical metaphor for a universal moral and spiritual condition. The concept has merit. The execution does not.

Processing Salo is a difficult experience. It does not work the way a normal movie does. Instead of inviting collaboration between audience and filmmakers, it encourages distance. Salo does not tell a story; it offers images. I have given it a “star” rating based on the usual criteria (one of which is how strongly I would recommend it), but in a way that’s a cheat. As a traditional motion picture, Salo is an abject failure, but it never seeks to be just another movie.

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Movie Review: New Yorker

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film, from 1975, is also in a way the ultimate film: its representation of depravity may be unsurpassable. Pasolini sets the Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” in 1944-45, in a sumptuous villa in Mussolini’s Republic of Salò, the Nazi puppet regime of northern Italy, where four potentates subject a phalanx of young men and women to their limitless power and pleasure.

In the stately grand salon, with its paintings and piano, two grandes dames lyrically recite Sadean tales of obscene degradation to the accompaniment of Chopin as the men oversee the rituals of the house—rape, torture, coprophagy, mutilation, and murder—which Pasolini depicts clearly, unflinchingly, even lyrically. Pasolini suggests that the classical values of Western civilization and the ostensibly progressive modernity that’s based on them are steeped in the blood of innocents.

This film is essential to have seen but impossible to watch: a viewer may find life itself defiled beyond redemption by the simple fact that such things can be shown or even imagined. In Italian.

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Movie Review: AlternateEnding

Knowing, as one can’t help but know, that Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is the most god-damned notorious art film of them all for its grotesque displays of violence, warped sexuality, and bottomless imagination for depicting human cruelty, the film’s opening is even more disorienting than it should be. And it’s nothing but black titles on a white background! But underneath plays a jaunty, jazzy tune, Franco Ansaldo and Alfredo Bracchi’s “Son tanto triste”, promising a breezy tossed-off insincere experience to follow. In its own tiny way, it’s as perverse and excruciating as anything that follows.

Truth be told, Salò’s reputation for toxic, vile unwatchability is a bit overblown. It is, beyond question, a harrowing experience, and one that is very difficult to recommend – having at last seen it, I’m comfortable calling it an absolutely vital work of cinema that I’ll never recommend to anybody for any reason – but it’s nothing like a non-stop chamber of horrors that, once it stops, never lets up in punishing the audience. It’s extremely formalised, in fact, and takes repeated stops to shift away from its depictions or even descriptions of depravity to indulge in circular conversation amongst its villains about European philosophy.

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