Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom

The title of the book is 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Must. Not Could. Not Should. Must. These are films that, according to the people who collated the list, are required viewing for anyone who wishes to live a satisfactory and fulfilled life, cinematically at least. They are essential for making you a complete person. Presumably this is because these films will impart some kind of life-affirming information, or perhaps they have some noteworthy impact upon modern cinema; a legacy to earn them a place in the annals of movie history. Or maybe, just maybe, the makers of the list are just fucking with us all, imparting some sadistic punishment for daring to think that watching far too many films results in anything other than a waste of time and a flabby midriff.Salo7
Salo has something of a reputation amongst the film world, enough for it to top my recent list of the movies on the 1001 list that I’m least looking forward to watching, based purely on a handful of screenshots and a couple of other bloggers complaining about it. It turns out that my fears were justified, although my extreme apprehension may have lessened the horrific impact this film may have otherwise had on me, as whilst it was bad – enough to force me to look away on several occasions to prevent myself from vomiting – it didn’t quite plumb the depths of depravity as deeply as I’d expected.Salo3
So what is this film? Well, the central plot, as much as there is one, sees four aristocratic men known only as the Duke, the Bishop, the President and the Magistrate, along with their female counterparts, recruiting some soldier-types and hand-picking eighteen virginal youths to be held against their will in a house in the countryside. During their stay the children will be subdued to as much physical, mental and sexual degradation and torture as the adults deem fit, as the ensuing discomfort and anguish seems the method by which the adults achieve optimum sexual excitement. What kind of acts are we talking about here? Well, as the film progresses they escalate, beginning with your average forced hand-jobs, being forced to walk around naked and pretending to be dogs – complete with walking on all fours, being led with a collar and leash and eating without using your hands. Next of course there’s rape – usually anally – and some acts I felt would be best described via stick figure diagrams:Salo
Afterwards one unfortunate victim was force fed cake filled with nails, and then a huge vat of excrement, otherwise known as dinner, was shared by the entire company. In case you couldn’t guess, this was where I became really nauseous, as the effects used were rather realistic. After this chapter – delightfully titled Circle of Shit, comes the film’s final segment, which came as something of a relief despite being called Circle of Blood. Alas, this segment brought with it something I cannot tolerate on film; and that is mutilation, specifically of the eyes and tongue, both of which are witnessed here horrifically.Salo6
I mentioned earlier that the film wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, and I think my reasoning for this could be that, in a certain light, much of what occurs is darkly – very, very darkly – comedic, assuming one has a twisted and evil sense of humour, which at times I have been known to have. There’s something oddly humourous about the juxtaposition of the aristocracy being aroused by having someone urinate on their face, or when one, after witnessing a futile attempt from a captive to pleasure his master, utters the line below:Salo5
And by the time the men are in drag, about to get married, whilst the priest is being fondled from behind during the service, well by that time we’ve seen so many horrors that even the basest levels of humour – a man with a moustache wearing a dress – can rarely fail to raise a smile. This isn’t anything I feel happy laughing about, in fact this mirth came with a heavy helping of shame, yet I tittered nonetheless, and that cannot be ignored. The sheer insanity of some of the dialogue also provided a welcome relief from the horrors on screen, featuring such delights as, after his first male victim recedes away at the prospect of sex, the priest utters forlornly “There are a thousand occasions when one does not desire a woman’s anus,” and when a girl seems less than enthralled at the prospect of eating a man’s defecation, a woman declares “It’s a unbelievable that a girl could behave like this in front of such a delicacy.” Alas, it’s quotes like these that made me annoyed the film is subtitled, as it meant I had to keep focussed on the screen in order to catch these gems.Salo8
The film is also beautifully shot and, generally speaking, rather well made, with thoroughly committed performances from all involved – except for the occasional scene where the hilarity of the situation reduced some extras to uncharacteristic laughter. The fact that such physical and emotional reactions could be drawn from the viewer show that the intention of the film makers was achieved with great success, and the sheer artwork of the imagery only enhanced the vulgarity it was depicting. The opening is a masterwork in creating a false sense of security – a plain off-white background with simple text listing the credits, whilst some easy-listening music plays gently in the background. If you don’t know the reputation of this film, it’ll be something of a shock, I assure you. Salo2
This does not mean by any reckoning that I enjoyed watching this film. Far from it, in fact, and it’s rating of Choose Life was all but certain even before the disc had been inserted into my DVD player. No, I did not like this film, and even if you removed all the depravity you’d still be left with a largely plot-less affair that celebrates and revels in the upper classes believing themselves able to own and demean others purely because they feel they deserve it, and not only that but it actually lets them get away with it too. Add to that a seemingly endless supply of stories and anecdotes regarding the younger lives of the women, all of which made me feel like Bruce McGill in Lincoln, becoming increasing agitated at the president’s inexhaustible stock of tales and parables.Salo1 There isn’t a single scene within the film that doesn’t repulse me. From the opening – four soldiers barge into a meeting of four aristocratic girls – the daughters of the captors, it turns out – and one spits forcefully into a girl’s face, before carting them off to be married to each other’s fathers – one girl is forced to marry her own uncle. Later, we learn that of the children taken captive, one is the son of a judge, whom one of the men has been waiting to deflower for two years now. Another, a girl this time, was kidnapped by bribing the nuns taking care of her, whilst another’s mother “fell into the river and drowned” attempting to protect her child. This unfortunate soul probably suffers the most of all the captives, as she is the first to be chosen for the Bush Tucker Trial of poop-eating, after a story about a woman’s mother causes her to break down in tears, at which point the Duke exclaims that “This howling is the most exciting thing I have ever heard.” You know what? I don’t want to think about this film any more. It’s position on the 1001 List is the only credit it should have to its name, and that’s just so people like me could warn you from ever setting eyes upon it.

Choose life – never, ever stop choosing life – 1/10

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21 thoughts on “Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom

  1. Congratulations, my friend. You survived. I don’t think there’s really much more than you came through the ordeal with your sanity intact.

    I still say that it’s possible to respect this film and to understand what Pasolini was trying to do with it, but I find anyone who claims to like it to be immediately suspect. Anyone who considers it a favorite is probably someone you should never talk to again.

    • Thanks Steve. It is most definitely not a film I could ever “like,” but it does indeed have some artistic merit. When it goes up on the 1001 Club in a few weeks I’ll be automatically un-following anyone that gives it more than 6/10.

    • Then I suggest you never watch another John Waters, Martin Scorsese, or Alec Baldwin movie again, because they all praise the film. It’s called subtext, something you nor this “reviewer” are able to see.

  2. Fuck this movie. Plain and simple. I watch a lot of screwed up movies, but this is the only one that brought me close to vomiting. I’d never been so repulsed during a film, and I still haven’t. And I’ve seen A Serbian Film. And I say this often, but here is why I think Salo is far, far more disturbing and sickening than A Serbian Film: the very reason you found it bearable. It’s the fact Salo plays it so lighthearted and through the perspective of the villains, showing all of the events in a positive and even joyful light. I didn’t find it funny. I found it borderline evil, and I never say shit like that. Whereas A Serbian Film (which is actually far superior in its filmmaking skill than even Salo) is portrayed from the perspective of the victim, so we know everything that’s happening is fucked up, and that’s how the movie wants us to feel.

    I’m a pretty depraved individual, but Salo was too much even for me.

    • I have no intention whatsoever of seeing A Serbian Film, and I’m forever grateful it’s not on the 1001 List. I think I clung desperately to the humour as the only way of making it through the film. It wasn’t the situations I found comical, more the absurdity of how they were being portrayed, as it is indeed very much evil and sickening.

  3. To be honest, I’d probably rate the film at least an 8/10, because it delivers on what it is; a repulsive display of Human filth. I’d by no means recommend it to anyone whose view on the world I don’t wish to taint, and I for one would be happy to never watch it again, because I fear I would be forced to gouge out of eyes first… or watch Justin Bieber’s ‘Never Say Never’.

    I’m pretty sure there were some political messages about the corruption of power and what not, but these went somewhat over my head what with all the defecation and violation.

    I do have to wonder though, did any of these actors go on to find other acting work after this? I couldn’t imagine any of them staring in a feel-good summer blockbuster.

    • Well, of the four lead men, only the Duke went on to anything, and he apparently had a small role in Mission Impossible 3, so I need to watch that again but hate it a little bit more this time. All four women seem to have been more successful, though not in anything I’ve seen, and almost all of the younger cast have only one film on their C.V. – it seems their experience on this film were enough to last them a lifetime.

      Just because the film delivers on it’s intention doesn’t for me make it worthy of a high score. Uwe Boll may try to make terrible films and succeed, but they’re still terrible films. Pasolini may have set out to make a film that would offend and repulse all who watched it, but that doesn’t make it anything I want to give a decent score to.

      • Whilst I wouldn’t rate this film in the same way that I would rate, say, Finding Nemo, I think that it by no means deserves a poor rating. I can’t speak for you, but I chose to watch this film because of everything I had heard about it; repulsive, disgusting, jarring, these are all things I expected the film to be. I watched it, and sure enough, it met all of these, for lack of a better word, ‘goals’. It was everything I, the audience, expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was utter filth that I will never watch again, and I don’t believe the film deserves any praise, but I don’t believe that it should be rated poorly due to the fact that it is repulsive, when the entire focus of the movie was of it being repulsive.

        I think it’s easy to to knock the film because of the vile themes it presents, but when the film meets those themes and is everything that the director (I presume) intended it to be, I don’t think we can really fault it on that behalf.

        I don’t know, I kind of see it as disliking a film because it’s funny, when the film itself intends to be a comedy.

        And Missing Impossible 3? Really? I’ll have to re-watch that. If the Duke character is who I think he is (I haven’t watched this film for a while), then I think he definitely has a slight ‘Russell Crowe’ look about him, which is simultaneous horrendously disturbing and slightly amusing.

        • The Duke was the guy with the full beard, who got peed on and kissed everyone at the first wedding.

          I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, with regards to whether something meeting it’s intention automatically makes it worthy of celebration. It depends on what that ‘goal’ was, and whether it was a worthy target to aim for, which I believe in this case it was not.

  4. This is a film that critics put on lists just to try to look cool, No one really likes it or should ever think they need to watch it. I saw one person praise it for the skill shown in being able to generate such a strong reaction in him. I countered by asking how much skill it takes to generate a strong reaction to seeing real, naked underage teenagers really being forced to eat real human shit. And I’ve seen others argue that it was intended to disgust so it deserves praise for accomplishing that. In my opinion, just because something is intentional doesn’t mean that that makes it good.

    • And to that point, seeing someone hit by a train would evoke disgust in me, but that hardly makes it art. I’m disgusted by the fly-blown body of roadkill. That doesn’t mean I want to frame it.

      • Agreed agreed agreed. It’s a disgusting film, and if that was the intention then well done to the film makers, but also they can go jump off a cliff for intending to make this vile trash.

  5. I’ve not seen this film. However, I’ve read a few reviews, including this one, and have heard quite a bit about it otherwise. I am still failing to understand why I “must” see this before I die. Thanks for taking the bullet on this one. Or should I say “I’m sorry you took the bullet?”

    • Don’t see it. Seriously, you’re better off for it. It’s not a film you must see, it’s a film you mustn’t. There’s imagery here I’ll never remove from my memory, and it’s actually tainted the films I’ve seen since by causing comaprisons of some scenes. It’s a special kind of film that makes other films worse, despite being awful itself.

  6. Hi, I came across your blog on Twitter and read your review on Salo. I think we both had similar reactions to the film. When I reviewed it last year, I couldn’t bring myself to rate it, instead left a cautionary remark at the end for anyone who was thinking of watching it to be prepared for some graphic subject matter. You brought up that there was some artistic merit to the film and I’d like to articulate that further. While I’m still uncertain of why Pasolini decided to take on such a “heavy” film, to put it lightly, I think Salo externalizes the point that fascism is unethical, amoral and aims to dehumanize all persons involved, especially its victims. The film is supposed to shock and nauseate because fascism is unpleasant. It’s what Sade painfully wanted to illustrate in his book and what Pasolini wanted to further replicate on screen. For example, the scene where the girl is forced to eat human remains is a metaphor that aims at pointing out that repeating the party line of fascism is like, pardon the expression, shoving shit down people’s throats. As an Italian director, I think Pasolini felt responsible to show the dark nature of Italy’s past (fascism started in Italy). Please don’t misrepresent my interpretation. I’m not saying I enjoyed the film or its sadistic nature, but knowing this I cannot deny the power of the film’s message.

    Cristina

    • Thanks for stopping by Cristina. I have no intention of misinterpreting your comment! By the sounds of it you didn’t like the film – so good news, you’re a sane person – but you appreciated it being made for the message it depicted and the bravery of those involved. That’s all fair enough and I’m not going to argue with you there, I just really really really wish I hadn’t seen it. The only positive I took from it was that it might help my diet, as after watching it I skipped lunch because I really didn’t feel like eating anything.

      • Haha, yeah I recall losing my appetite afterwards, as well. And I agree that it’s one of those films that stays with you. However, I don’t regret watching it because, like I said, I respect the effort and artistic integrity and would have always wondered about it. I will, however, say I’m probably not going to watch a Serbian Film.
        Anyway, interesting take on it. I respect your opinion and looking forward to reading more.

        Cristina

  7. I enjoy watching fucked up movies and I could never find myself watching this. I might if the kids who were kidnapped got revenge on their captives but from what I read that doesn’t happen. You are all brave souls for seeing this.

    • There’s really no need to watch it Verm, you’re better off not. There’s an unsatisfying lack of vengeance, but in a way I’m glad of that because it made the film shorter.

  8. Pingback: 2014 Mid-Year Update | Life Vs Film

  9. What a sick film.. Won’t watch this. It’s enough that I’ve read sick manga like Litch Hikari Club…

    Thanks for the honest review.

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