Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SALO OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975, Italy)

Though an allegory for Mussolini’s Fascist rape of his own country, the humorless debasing violence and sadism is a prescient warning for all of humanity, everywhere, anytime. This isolated Italian villa is haunted by the spirit of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, et al, where absolute power is wielded by criminals who torture and taunt helpless victims for pleasure, where the laws are changed without notice, the punishment swift, brutal, inescapable, where the inmates have no chance to survive intact…if at all.

The villa is ruled by four depraved men who usher in the age of the spiritual apocalypse: the repression of religious acts is not what makes this ordeal immoral…it’s the debauchery that erases the victim’s essence, that voids their humanity, their suffering no more important than that of a sputtering insect, recognized for only the physiological thrill it imparts upon the anatomy. These men are the little gods of their own world, recruiting a chosen few who help to control and pervert their young and delicate prey.

Director Pier Paolo Pasolini films mostly in medium and long shots that helps to emotionally subtract the viewer from the narrative turpitude, otherwise it would be too much. When he does film in close-up we are shocked: a mouthful of feces, a young girl’s slit throat, a woman’s laughing visage while off-screen, a young man is molested. There is no humor here in Pasolini’s film; there is only the rank stench of shit and decay, like the open pits at Ohdruff full of bloated corpses. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is composed of foreground music; a redheaded woman plays the piano during the depraved storytelling sessions, or a radio blares some asynchronous tune beyond the frame’s border. The growl of Allied bombers counts down the days of this tyrannical regime, and they rush to fulfill every insane desire.

Eventually, even one of the cruel participants is overwhelmed and destroys herself; she is the musician: it’s as if Pasolini is saying that even Art has its limits, a malignant internal metaphor for SALO itself. The torture scenes that end the film are viewed from a distance through binoculars, each of the four rulers taking turns as witness and master. The acts are unspeakable. The pain is unbearable. The smiling faces of the torturers are contorted by this animal cruelty and yet they remain human. And the most frightening aspect of SALO is that these abuses are perpetuated, not by faceless monsters, but human beings.

Final Grade: (A)

1 comment:

Rob said...

I've seen some disturbing films in my time, but this is the one that left me feeling the filthiest after watching it. I've read the reviews stating the "allegory" Pasolini was going for and what happened to him because of it. But I just can't help but think that the nauseating images and bleak story transcend any allegory he might have been trying to impart. There's no way anyone would sit through this film (especially in a darkened theater) and think to themselves, "Aha! The Circle of Shit signifies Italy's blahblahblah." Shock and awe is the only possible reaction to this film when seeing it for the first time. Pasolini may very well have meant deeper meaning to the film (that would no doubt be lost on most American viewers....at least it was on me!), but my gag reflex got more of a workout than my cerebellum.

By the way, there's an "interesting" band called Cradle of Filth that made a music video for their song "Babylon A.D." that looks VERY inspired by 'Salo'.