Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti
Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi and Umberto Paolo Quintavalle
Four fascist libertines round-up 9 teenage boys and girls and subject them to 120 days of physical, mental and sexual torture.
Salo makes Lars von Trier’s Antichrist look like a romantic comedy. I’ve never watched a film so disturbing that I came close to turning it off this many times. If you’re going to watch this, I suggest you pop the benzodiazepine of your choice on the front end – you’re going to need it. Word of warning, if you aren’t deeply troubled and revolted by this movie, chances are you’re a sociopath. Salo takes its name from the isolated Italian town of the same name – the host of Mussolini’s Nazi-backed regime during 1943 to 1945. Nazi forces are kidnapping local attractive teenagers for a bizarre ritual that culminates in the most disturbing two hours of cinematic terror and shock that you’re likely to see. If you know of a more inhumane and basely depraved film – please let me know.
These four men, a duke, magistrate, bishop, and president, have the kids brought before them at their magnificently opulent mansion – male and female – and they begin their humiliating process of choosing which are perfect specimen enough to endure the perverted 120 days before them. What follows is truly reprehensible in every regard. These teenagers are forced to perform sodomy and every sexual atrocity you can imagine on each other as well as the four antagonists. Not content to merely rape the kids, the men and their guards/boyfriends include each other in their sicknesses. Every night the unwilling, yet complicit group is “entertained” with lewd and sordid tales of prostitutes’ sexual escapades gone by so the four men can allow their disgusting imaginations and libido to dwell in deeper sickness. Every minute of the captives’ stay is orchestrated, ensuring in a less willful and broken spirit.
The teenagers are forced to rape each other and the four men in turn, rape them. You won’t find a single act of heterosexual behavior in this film. As much as it deals with sexuality, I personally don’t see it as pornography. You might wonder in the beginning like I did, but as it develops, we become more complicit with it. See, there’s that word again – complicit. The indulgent actions of the men reduce the captives to such inhuman places, it’s impossible to be titillated in any way. The sex scenes are very graphic, constant, and rooted in sick desire. Not to be outdone with simple rape, Pasolini submerges the viewer in the nearly impossible to watch, drifting fully into aberrancy on a grand level. Soon the four men tire of simple sexual torture, and add unspeakable trials to the film. The teens are forced to eat feces, they’re led around on all fours, attached at the neck to dog leashes, and they must beg for their meals like a dog. Insert some nails imbedded in food just to make us cringe further. The physical and mental trauma the viewer and captive have to endure is almost too much, and I watch horror constantly.
Pier Paolo Pasolini before his murder in 1975
In the end, as I’m sure was the original intent, the viewers become complicit in our dark and voyeuristic actions by even making it to the end of the film. Terrible and shocking, but still I had to find out the fate of these unfortunate kids. Even in the final moments of the film Pasolini proves he wasn’t done tormenting us until FIN appears on the screen. Exponentially complicating the viewing of Salo is the fact that there isn’t one single person we identify with or root for as we’re merely witnesses to the horror taking place on the screen. It lacks any narrative or even simple close up shots, instead opting for carefully framed wide shots make us feel more like a silent and…wait for it…complicit witness.Salo in all it’s obvious and glaring perversity, is still a work of art. The content notwithstanding, art, no matter how dark or inherently evil, is still subjectionable. The trauma within doesn’t make this any less of a success. In the end it made me feel something, even though I didn’t want to experience those feelings, that is truly a testament to true art. This is difficult to watch, so I would give my strongest warning to avoid this unless you have a powerful mental constitution. I’d be lying if I said some scenes didn’t trigger my gag reflex.