Irish Film Institute -Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom

Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom

A loose adaptation of De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom transferred to the short-lived Fascist republic declared in northern Italy during the last days of WW2, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious final film (the subject of censorship since its first appearance in 1975 and now released in a complete version) is a disturbing chronicle of the ritualised abuse of various young men and women by a group of power-crazed aristocrats. Indeed, it’s far from pleasant viewing, as these besuited figures strip their victims of clothes and humanity, subject them to sexual assault, force them to eat faeces, then torture and kill them. Although critic Philip French described it as ‘one of the most truly disgusting movies I have ever seen’, in a way, that’s the point, since we hardly have to look too far into 20th century history fantasies of sexual control serve to stimulate a desire for more and more extremes of pleasure, until only the act of killing will satisfy them. Challengingly for instances of the abuse of power taking the form of sexual violence.
Not uncharacteristically, Sal’ proves something of a contrary piece of cinema. Obviously playing with the motifs of pornographic longing, it still denies us visual gratification (explicit detail is kept off-screen or in long-shot), demonstrating instead how such however, Pasolini entrusts the viewer to draw their own line of sanity. Eschewing conventional characterisation and identification with the sufferings of the victim, he allows us to sit back and consider what we’re watching, deliberately avoiding inflaming our passions with any kind of Spielbergian emotionalism. Pasolini didn’t make the film to ingratiate himself with the audience; he was intent on rubbing our noses in our own shit. Years on, his project is still relevant, still troubling.Trevor Johnston.
Italy, 1975.
English subtitles.
117 mins.

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