Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
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|Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom|
Original Italian release poster
|Directed by||Pier Paolo Pasolini|
|Produced by||Alberto Grimaldi|
|Written by||Pier Paolo Pasolini
|Based on||The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade|
Umberto Paolo Quintavalle
Elsa De Giorgi
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Cinematography||Tonino Delli Colli|
|Edited by||Nino Bragli
Tatiana Casini Morigi
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||116 minutes|
|Box office||SEK 1,786,578|
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Italian: Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma), commonly referred to as simply Salò, is a 1975 Italian art film written and directed by 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. The story is in four segments, inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. The film also contains frequent references to and several discussions of Friedrich Nietzsche's 1887 book Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, Ezra Pound's poem The Cantos, and Marcel Proust's novel sequence In Search of Lost Time. It was Pasolini's last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released. Because it depicts children subjected to intensely graphic violence, relentless sadism, sexual depravity, and horrific murder, the film was extremely controversial upon its release, and remains banned in several countries. For instance, it was only in the year 2000 that it was granted an uncut release in the UK.
The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupt fascist libertines after the fall of Benito Mussolini's Italy in July 1943. The libertines kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, and sexual and mental torture. 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, 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).
In Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy, in 1944, four wealthy men of power, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate, and the President, agree to marry each other's daughters as the first step in a debauched ritual. They recruit four teenage boys to act as guards and four young soldiers (called "studs", "cockmongers", or "fuckers"), who are chosen because of their big penises. They then kidnap nine young men and nine young women and take them to a palace near Salò. Accompanying them are four middle-aged prostitutes, also collaborators, who recount arousing stories for the men of power, who, in turn, sadistically exploit their victims.
The story depicts some of the many days at the palace, during which the four men 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 examine them. The Circle of Manias presents some of the stories in the first part of Sade's book, told by Signora Vaccari (Hélène Surgère). The Magistrate urges her to tell them every last detail in her stories.
During breakfast, the daughters enter the dining hall naked to serve food. One of the studs trips a daughter and rapes her in front of the crowd. The four men of power, the prostitutes, the guards, and the other studs laugh at her cries of pain. Intrigued, the President moons several slaves before making the stud have anal sex with him as well. Two victims are forced to marry. The ceremony is interrupted for a short time when the Duke fondles several victims and prostitutes. When the ceremony ends, the bride and groom are forced to fondle each other in front of the men, who rape them to stop them from having sex with each other, during which the Magistrate engages with the Duke in three-way intercourse by worshiping his buttocks before penetrating him.
Another day begins with the victims being forced to act like dogs. When one of the victims, Lamberto, refuses to do so, the Magistrate forces him before whipping him. The Magistrate tortures Lamberto's daughter by tricking her into eating food containing nails.
The next day, the Duke shares a passionate kiss with the boy Rino, who, seemingly attracted to him, kisses the Magistrate. One girl expresses her sadness over the situation. She tells Eva, her friend, that she does not think she can take much more.
In the Circle of Shit, non-penetrative sex gives way to coprophagia. As Signora Maggi tells her story, the President notices that one of the studs seated next to him has an erection and fondles the stud's penis through his pants. Another stud uses a female victim's hand to masturbate himself.
As the story continues, Signora Maggi tells how she killed her mother, and Renata cries, remembering the murder of her own mother. The Duke, sexually excited at the sound of her cries, begins verbally abusing her. She begs him to stop, which makes him more ruthless. The Duke orders the guards and studs to undress her. During this, she begs God for death, and the Duke punishes her by defecating in front of her and forcing her to eat his feces, making Rino rub his genitals as she does so. The President exits the chamber to masturbate. Later, the other victims are presented a meal of human feces. Graziella again tells her friend that she does not think she can take much more. During a search for which victim has the most beautiful buttocks, Franco is picked and is promised death in the future.
The Circle of Blood starts with a black mass-like wedding between the studs and the men of power. The men angrily order the children to laugh, but they are too grief-stricken to do so. The Pianist and Signora Vaccari tell jokes to make the victims laugh. The wedding ceremony ensues with each men of power exchanging rings with the studs. After the wedding, the Bishop is sodomized by his stud. After, the stud refers to his huge penis as the Bishop's "friend", which will be available for his enjoyment in the future. The Bishop then leaves to examine the captives in their rooms, where they start systematically betraying each other: Claudio reveals that Graziella is hiding a photograph, Graziella reveals that Eva and Antiniska are having a secret sexual affair, and a collaborator and the black servant are shot after being found having sex. The victim Umberto Chessari is appointed to replace Ezio. Toward the end, the remaining victims are called out to determine which of them will be punished. Graziella is spared due to her betrayal of Eva (whose name is not called and who is absent in this scene), and Rino is spared due to his submissive relationship with the Duke. Those who are called are given a blue ribbon and are sentenced to a painful death. The victims huddle together and cry, pray and one in particular begins to react from the horrible meals he's been fed. They are then tortured and murdered through methods such as branding, hanging, scalping, burning, and having their tongues and eyes cut out, as each libertine takes his turn to watch as voyeur. The soldiers shake hands and bid farewell, and the Pianist commits suicide due to her grief.
The film's final shot is of two young soldiers, who had witnessed and collaborated in all the atrocities, dancing a simple waltz together.
Cast and Characters
- Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke (Duke of Blangis); tall, strongly built, bearded, chauvinistic, and very sadistic; enjoys tormenting female victims with verbal abuse and degrading them, his favorite victims being Renata and Fatimah. Highly sexually potent. Shows loving feelings for the male victim Rino and allows him to live at the end.
- Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop; extremely sadistic. Writes down several victim's names for punishment. May have a soft spot for Graziella.
- Umberto P. Quintavalle as The Magistrate; mustachioed sadomasochist; fit and balding; enjoys bullying the victims, yet shows joy from being sodomized. Very strict.
- Aldo Valletti as The President; scrawny, weak and crude. He enjoys dark and punning humor and painful penetration to himself and others. He is passionate about anal sex even when having sex with women and girls, refusing to have vaginal intercourse with them.
- Caterina Boratto as Signora Catelli, a prideful, cruel prostitute who jokes about horrible instances. Tells stories during the Circle of Blood
- Elsa De Giorgi as Signora Maggi, a coprophiliac who finds no shame in defecating in front of others. Committed matricide for a nobleman. Tells stories during the Circle of Shit.
- Hélène Surgère as Signora Vaccari; lively and polite, she was molested as a very young child, but enjoyed it. Tells stories during the Circle of Manias.
- Sonia Saviange as The Pianist; soft-spoken, she plays continuously during the day, but is secretly very distressed at the actions around her. Commits suicide during the final day.
- Ezio Manni as The Collaborator, a guard who falls in love with the Slave girl. He is aware of his fate when he is found out, and is shot to death while holding his fist in the air in a socialist salute.
- Inès Pellegrini as The Slave Girl, a black slave in love with the Collaborator. Disobeyed orders by engaging in intercourse without the presence of the Masters. Is shot after the Collaborator.
- Sergio Fascetti – Forced to marry, but kept from actual intercourse. He is then raped by the President. In the end, he is branded and killed.
- Bruno Musso – As Carlo Porro in the film. Outspoken. Shows a foul mouth even to the Men of Power. One of the Magistrate's favorite victims of bullying. In the end, he is killed by having his left eye gouged out.
- Antonio Orlando – As Tonino. Killed by having his penis burned off.
- Claudio Cicchetti – Confesses to the Bishop about Graziella's photograph, leading to a chain of revealed secrets. Killed in the end.
- Franco Merli – Prideful and youthful. Tricked into his position with a promise of sex with an attractive girl. Said to have the most beautiful buttocks. Nearly killed midway through the film, but spared on a promise of a worse future death. He is killed at the end by having his tongue cut off.
- Umberto Chessari – Selected to replace Ezio as Collaborator after Ezio is shot to death.
- Lamberto Book – As Lamberto Gobbi in the film. Refuses to eat like dogs, and is whipped by the Magistrate. Also killed in the end.
- Gaspare di Jenno – As Rino in the film. A slightly masochistic homosexual and the Duke's favorite. He has sexual feelings for the Duke and is therefore the only victim who is not tortured during his time at the palace. In the end, he is spared death because of his submission.
- Giuliana Melis – Admired by the President because of her buttocks. Raped and killed at the end.
- Faridah Malik – As Fatimah in the film. A common victim of both the Duke's sexism and the Magistrate's bullying. In the end, she is scalped.
- Graziella Aniceto – Finds her time at the Palace unbearable and is calmed by Dorit and Eva, the latter of which she betrays. She is left alive at the film's end along with Rino.
- Renata Moar – A God-fearing and especially wide-eyed innocent. Forced into the palace just not long after witnessing the death of her mother. She is forced to marry Sergio, before being raped by the Duke. When she hears that they killed her mother, she begs God for death. The Duke enjoys tormenting her and at one point forces her to consume his feces. She is killed at the end by having her breasts burned.
- Benedetta Gaetani – Although she is not present in the blue ribbon ceremony, Benedetta is also killed in the massacre.
- Olga Andreis – As Eva in the film. Soft-spoken. Friends with Graziella and in love with Antiniska. Her fate is unknown.
- Dorit Henke – Beautiful and rebellious; the most undisciplined of the girls. Her fate is unknown.
- Antiniska Nemour – In a lesbian relationship with Eva. Her fate is unknown.
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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. Salò, a nickname for the Italian Social Republic (RSI) (because Mussolini ruled from this northern town rather than from Rome), which was a puppet state of Nazi Germany. In the film the tortured subjects almost no background is given on them and for the most part they almost never speak and no names are given to them.
Salò has been banned in several countries, because of its graphic portrayals of rape, torture, and murder – mainly of people thought to be younger than eighteen years of age. The film remains banned in several countries to this day.
Salò was rejected by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) in January 1976. It was first screened at the Old Compton Street cinema club in Soho, London in 1977, in an uncut form and without certification from BBFC secretary James Ferman; the premises were raided by the Metropolitan Police after a few days. A cut version prepared under Ferman's supervision, again without formal certification, was subsequently screened under cinema club conditions for some years. In 2000, in an uncut form, the film was finally passed for theatrical and video distribution in the United Kingdom.
In 1994, an undercover policeman in Cincinnati, Ohio rented the film from a local gay bookstore, and then arrested the owners for "pandering". A large group of artists, including Martin Scorsese and Alec Baldwin, and scholars signed a legal brief arguing the film's artistic merit; the Court dismissed the case because the police violated the owners' Fourth Amendment rights, without reaching the question of whether the film was obscene.
It was banned in Australia in 1976 for reasons of indecency. After a 17-year long ban, the Australian Classification Board passed the film with a R-18 + (for 18 and up only) uncut for theatrical release in July 1993. However, the Australian Classification Review Board met to confirm the R-18 + rating decision made by the Classification Board on the film and then subsequently posed an Australia-wide ban in February 1998 for "offensive cruelty with high impact, sexual violence and depictions of offensive and revolting fetishes" and consequently banning the film outright in Australia at the time and the film was then shut down from all Australian cinemas. Salò was resubmitted for classification in Australia in 2008, only to be rejected once again. The DVD print was apparently a modified version, causing outrage in the media over censorship and freedom of speech. In 2010, the film was submitted again, and passed once again with an R 18+ rating. According to the Australian Classification Board media release, the DVD was passed due to "the inclusion of 176 minutes of additional material which provided a context to the feature film." However the media release also stated that "The Classification Board wishes to emphasise that this film is classified R 18+ based on the fact that it contains additional material. Screening this film in a cinema without the additional material would constitute a breach of classification laws." The majority opinion of the board stated that the inclusion of additional material on the DVD "facilitates wider consideration of the context of the film which results in the impact being no more than high." This decision came under attack by Family Voice Australia (formerly the Festival of Light Australia), the Australian Christian Lobby and Liberal Party of Australia Senator Julian McGauran, who tried to have the lifted ban overturned, but the Board refused, stating "The film has aged plus there is bonus material that clearly shows it is fiction." The film was released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on 8 September 2010.
In New Zealand, the film was originally banned in 1976. The ban was upheld in 1993. In 1997, special permission was granted for the film to be screened uncut at a film festival. In 2001, the DVD was finally passed uncut with an 'R18' rating.
Documentaries about the film
An exhibition of photographs by Fabian Cevallos depicting scenes which were edited out of the film was displayed in 2005, in Rome. Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Bertolucci released a documentary in 2006, Pasolini prossimo nostro, based on an interview with Pasolini done on the set of Salò in 1975. The documentary also included photographs taken on the set of the film. The film is also the subject of a 2001 documentary written and directed by Mark Kermode.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 69% of 26 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.4/10. Director Michael Haneke named the film his fourth favorite film when he voted for the 2002 Sight and Sound poll; director Catherine Breillat and film critic Joel David also voted for the film. David Cross named it one of his favorite films. Rainer Werner Fassbinder also cites it as one of his 10 favorite movies. A 2000 poll of critics conducted by The Village Voice named it the 89th greatest film of the 20th century. In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Salò the 65th scariest film ever made. In 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival placed it at No. 47 on its list of The Essential 100 films. Director John Waters said, "Salo is a beautiful film...it uses obscenity in an intelligent way...and it's about the pornography of power." TV Guide gave the film a mixed review awarding it a score of 2.5/ 4 stating, "despite moments of undeniably brilliant insight, is nearly unwatchable, extremely disturbing, and often literally nauseous".
The film's reputation for pushing boundaries has led to some critics to criticize or avoid it. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Salo is, I think, a perfect example of the kind of material that, theoretically, anyway, can be acceptable on paper but becomes so repugnant when visualized on the screen that it further dehumanizes the human spirit, which is supposed to be the artist's concern." Roger Ebert wrote that he owned the film since its release on Laserdisc, but, as of 2010, he had still not watched it, citing the film's transgressive reputation. In 2011, David Haglund of Slate surveyed five film critics, and three of them said that it was required viewing for any serious critic or cinephile. Haglund concluded that he still would not watch the film.
It seems that Pasolini was undecided on what type of conclusion the film should have, to the point of having conceived and shot four different endings: the first was a shot of a red flag in the wind with the words "Love You," but it was abandoned by the director because he thought it "too pompous" and "prone to the ethics of psychedelic youth" which he detested. The second showed all the actors in the film, other than the four gentlemen, the director and his troupe perform a wild dance in a room of the villa furnished with red flags, and the scene was filmed with the purpose of using it as a background during the credits, but was discarded because it appeared, in the eyes of Pasolini, chaotic and unsatisfactory. Another final scene, discovered recently and which was only in the initial draft of the script, showed, after the torture's end, the four gentlemen walk out of the house and drawing conclusions about the morality of the whole affair. Finally, keeping the idea of dance as the summation of carnage Pasolini chose to mount the so-called final "Margherita," with the two young soldiers dancing.
In 2008, British opera director David McVicar and Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan have produced a performance of Richard Strauss' 1905 opera Salome based on the film, setting it in a debauched palace in Nazi Germany, for the Royal Opera House in London, with Nadja Michael as Salome, Michaela Schuster as Herodias, Thomas Moser as Herod, Joseph Kaiser as Narraboth, and Michael Volle as Jokanaan. This performance was recorded by Jonathan Haswell and later that year was released on DVD by Opus Arte.
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- Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom at the Internet Movie Database
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- Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom at Rotten Tomatoes