History of Literature

Marquis de Sade

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom



Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom), commonly referred to as Salò, is a controversial 1975 Italian drama film written and directed by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini with uncredited writing contributions by Pupi Avati. It is based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Because of its scenes depicting intensely graphic violence, sadism, and sexual depravity, the movie was extremely controversial upon its release, and remains banned in several countries to this day. It was Pasolini's last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released.

The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupted fascist libertines in Benito Mussolini's Italy in 1944 who kidnap a total of eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, sexual and mental torture before finally executing them one by one. The film is noted for exploring the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality, and fascism.

Although it remains a controversial film to this day, it has been praised by various film historians and critics, and while not typically considered a horror film, Salò was named the 65th scariest film ever made by the Chicago Film Critics Association in 2006 and is the subject of an article in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986).


The film is set in the Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy in 1944. The story is in four segments loosely parallel to Dante's Inferno: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood.

Four men of power, the Duke (Duc de Blangis), the Bishop, the Magistrate (Curval), and the President (apparently Durcet) agree to marry each other's daughters as the first step in a debauched ritual. With the aid of several collaborator young men, they kidnap eighteen young men and women (nine of each sex), and take them to a palace near Marzabotto. Accompanying them are four middle-aged prostitutes, also collaborators, whose function in the debauchery will be to recount erotically arousing stories for the men of power, and who, in turn, will sadistically exploit their victims.

The story depicts some of the many days at the palace, during which the four men of power devise increasingly abhorrent tortures and humiliations for their own pleasure. In the Anteinferno segment, the captures of some victims by the collaborators are shown, and, later, the four lords examining them. The Circle of Manias presents some of the stories in the first part of Sade's book, told by Mrs. Vaccari (Hélène Surgère). In the Circle of Shit, the passions escalate in intensity from mainly non-penetrative sex to coprophagia. A most infamous scene shows a young woman forced to eat the feces of the Duke; later, the other victims are presented a giant meal of human feces. The Circle of Blood starts with a black mass-like wedding between the guards and the men of power, after which the Bishop has sex with a male victim. The Bishop then leaves to examine the captives in their rooms, where they start systematically betraying each other: one girl is revealed to be hiding a photograph, two girls are shown to be having a secret sexual affair, and finally, a collaborator (Ezio Manni) and the black servant (Ines Pellegrini) are shot down after being found having sex. Toward the end, the remaining victims who chose to not collaborate with their fascist tormentors are murdered through methods like scalping, branding, tongue and eyes cut out as each libertine takes his turn to watch, as voyeur.

The film's final shot portrays the complacency, myopia, and desensitization of the masses: two young soldiers, who had witnessed and collaborated in all of the prior atrocities, dance a simple waltz together.

Salò transposes the setting of the Marquis de Sade's book from 18th century France to the last days of Benito Mussolini's regime in the Republic of Salò. However, despite the horrors that it shows (rape, torture, and mutilation), it barely touches the perversions listed in the book, which include extensive sexual and physical abuse of children.

While the book provides the most important foundations of Salò, the events in the film draw as much on Pasolini's own life as on Sade's novel. Pasolini spent part of his early twenties in the Republic of Salò. During this time he witnessed a great many cruelties on the part of the Fascist collaborationist forces of the Salò Republic. Pasolini’s life followed a strange course of early experimentation and constant struggle. Growing up in Bologna and Friuli, Pasolini was introduced to many leftist examples in mass culture from an early age. He began writing at age seven, heavily under the influence of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. His writing quickly began to incorporate certain aspects of his personal life, mainly dealing with constant familial struggles and moving from city to city.

After studying major literary giants in high school, Pasolini enrolled in the University of Bologna for further education. Many of his memories of the experience led to the conceptualization of "Salò." He also claimed that the film was highly symbolic and metaphorical; for instance, that the coprophagia scenes were an indictment of mass-produced foods, which he labeled "useless refuse."

Although his career, in both film and literature, was highly prolific and far-reaching, Pasolini dealt with some major constants within his work. His first published novel in 1955 dealt with the concept of pimps and scandals within a world of prostitution. This first novel, titled Ragazzi di vita, created much scandal and brought about subsequent charges of obscenity.

One of his first major films, Accattone (1961), dealt with similar issues and was also received by an unwelcoming audience, who demanded harsher codes of censorship. It is hard to quickly sum up the vast amount of work which Pasolini created throughout his lifetime, but it becomes clear that so much of it focused around a very personal attachment to subject matter, as well as overt sexual themes.

Film's treatment of sexuality
A persistent theme in Salò is the degradation and modification of the human body. Throughout the story, the human body is reduced to something of lesser value than a person - for example, never does a sexual encounter occur in private (save the consensual sex between the Bishop and a young captive). Salò has been referred to as a film presenting the "death of sex", a "funeral dirge" of eroticism amidst sex's mass commercialization. Although men and women are naked throughout the story, sexual intercourse mostly is presented as an act of degradation. Thus, one of the libertines makes love to a guard, then goes to inspect the captive teenagers. When he finds two women making love (in violation of the libertines' laws), they reveal that another guard has been sleeping with a maid. The libertines then seek and kill the guard and the maid. Salò's depiction of sexual intercourse contrasts with that in erotic cinema: Salò presents sexual intercourse as pain, and deliberately avoids cinematic foreplay, leaving the sex acts as devoid of romantic allure and intrigue.




















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