Review: Saló – The 120 Days of Sodom
The career and personal life of director Pier Paolo Pasolini were mired in controversy. Even his murder shortly after the completion of Saló: The 120 Days of Sodom provokes more questions than answers: Was he really killed by a teen hustler? Was it a Mafia hit? Did he stage his own death as some sort of statement? The greatest part is that we’ll never know, and Pasolini will forever remain a man of mystery.
Given his penchant for exploring the topics of bizarre sexuality and political fascism, Saló is no real surprise. Pasolini’s final film takes the similarly titled Marquis de Sade tale and repositions it in the Nazi-controlled northern Italian state of Saló during the tail end of World War II. Four powerful men capture and enslave about two dozen teenagers for purposes both sexual and sadistic. While kept as prisoners in an old castle fortress, the teens are made to listen to stories of extreme perversion told by aging prostitutes, often culminating in some act of sex, torture or humiliation, dependent on the whim of the libertines. Yes, this is not a nice film. It contains scenes of forced sexual contact, rape, coprophilia, and, finally, murder.
Pasolini claimed that the film was an allegorical condemnation of fascism and while the political subtext is certainly there, it’s difficult to separate it from what appears to be the work of an auteur. That is, Pasolini’s predilections, while magnified and overstated, most likely served as inspiration. I don’t feel that the political explanation is necessarily bull, but it’s clear that Pasolini is expressing more here than merely political dissatisfaction.
The new DVD edition contains some great extras, including featurettes and a book. And, there is an English language track this time, in addition to the English subtitled version in its original Italian audio. Having gotten so used to the Italian track version over the last 10+ years, it was a treat to hear it in my own native tongue. Some scenes are actually scarier in English, though the original Italian seems to capture the mood and intensity of Saló better.
Saló is dark. Really dark. It examines an often unchecked side of the human animal and lets it ride unrestrained for 116 minutes. With startling imagery, brutal philosophy, and an abundance of nudity, Saló certainly isn’t for everyone, but amidst the excess, there is a message. Whether you want to venture forth to discover that message will be up to your own discrimination.
Here’s a fan-made trailer for the movie…