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
Sergio Citti
Based on The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
Starring Paolo Bonacelli
Giorgio Cataldi
Umberto Paolo Quintavalle
Aldo Valletti
Caterina Boratto
Elsa De Giorgi
Hélène Surgère
Sonia Saviange
Inès Pellegrini
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
Edited by Nino Bragli
Tatiana Casini Morigi
Enzo Ocone
Les Productions Artistes Associés
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • 22 November 1975 (1975-11-22) (Paris)
Running time 116 minutes[1]
Country Italy
Language Italian
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.[2][3] 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 Inferno: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. It was Pasolini's last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released.

Because of its scenes depicting intensely graphic violence, sadism and sexual depravity, the film was extremely controversial upon its release, and remains banned in several countries. The film is currently banned outright in Malaysia[citation needed] due to "repulsive, outrageous and abhorrent content" (extremely high impact violence, offensive depictions of cruelty and other content that is repelling and abhorrent). The film was then banned in Singapore due to its "extreme content that may cause controversy in Singapore". The film is banned outright in several other countries as well.[citation needed]

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,[citation needed] Salò was named the 65th scariest film ever made by the Chicago Film Critics Association in 2006[4] and is the subject of an article in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986).[5]


In Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy, in 1944, four wealthy 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. 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 (Efisio Etzi) trips a daughter and rapes her in front of the crowd. The four men of power, the whores, 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 (Sergio Fascetti and Renata Moar) are forced to marry. The ceremony is interrupted for a short time when the Duke fondles several victims and whores. 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 his anus with his penis.

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 his daughter (Susanna Radaelli) by tricking her into eating food containing nails.

The next day, the Duke shares a passionate kiss with the boy Rino (Gaspare di Jenno), who, seemingly attracted to him, kisses the Magistrate. One girl (Graziella Aniceto) expresses her sadness over the situation. She tells Eva (Olga Andreis) 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 (Elsa De Giorgi) 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 masturbates 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 (Sonia Saviange) 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 (Giorgio Cataldi) 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 (Ezio Manni) and the black servant (Ines Pellegrini) 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 murdered through methods such as branding, hanging, scalping, 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, waltzing together.


  • 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 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 whore 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.
Male victims
  • Sergio Fascetti – Forced to marry, but kept from actual intercourse. He is then raped by the Duke. In the end, he is branded.
  • 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 has 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 for his good behavior.
Female victims
  • Giuliana Melis – Unlike the book, she is killed.
  • 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 – 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 President. When she hears that 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, having burned her breasts.
  • Dorit Henke – Beautiful, and rebellious and the most undiscipline in the girls.
  • Antiniska Nemour – In love with Eva.
  • Benedetta Gaetani – Attempts to run away. As a result, she is quickly murdered.
  • Olga Andreis – As Eva in the film. Soft-spoken. Friends with Graziella and a lesbian relationship with Antiniska.


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.



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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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."[9] 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."[10] 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,[11] 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."[12][13] The film was released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on 8 September 2010.[14][15]

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.[16]

Documentaries about the film[edit]

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.


The film is considered a masterpiece by some artists. Acclaimed 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.[17] David Cross named it one of his favorite films.[18] Rainer Werner Fassbinder also cites it as one of his 10 favorite movies.[19] A 2000 poll of critics conducted by The Village Voice named it the 89th greatest film of the 20th century.[20] In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Salò the 65th scariest film ever made.[4] In 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival placed it at No. 47 on its list of The Essential 100 films.[21]

Alternative endings[edit]

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.[22] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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 Republicans dancing.[22]


Several versions of the film exist. Salò originally ran 145 minutes, but director Pasolini himself removed 25 minutes for story pacing reasons. The longest available version is the DVD published by the British Film Institute (BFI), containing a short scene usually deleted from other prints, in which, during the first wedding, one of the masters quotes a Gottfried Benn poem. This version of the film is featured both on the original 2001 DVD release and the remastered 2008 DVD as well as Blu-ray Disc. Since the remastered version was sourced from the original negative, which does not include the poetry reading, the additional footage was sourced from a 35 mm print of the film held by the BFI National Archive. A note in the DVD booklet explains that this leads to a slight shift in picture quality. Aside from the high-definition transfer, the 2008 BFI releases are identical – the apparent five-minute difference in running time is explained by the Blu-ray Disc running at the theatrical speed of 24 frames per second, while the DVD has been transferred at the slightly faster PAL video rate of 25 frames per second.

In the U.S., Salò suffered intermittent legal troubles. The Criterion Collection laserdisc and DVD editions were released for North America; however, the DVD was quickly withdrawn because of licensing conflicts with Pasolini's estate. As a result, Criterion's 1998 DVD release of the film created much collector's interest. Moreover, its rarity inspired bootleg copies sold as original pressings. The quality of the genuine Salò DVD is inferior by contemporary standards; most notably, the image has a green tinge. Criterion has since reissued the film in a completely remastered two-disc edition, albeit with the same spine number (17) as the original pressing.

Besides the BFI edition with the often missing poetry-quotation scene, there exists a French DVD version, distributed by Gaumont Columbia Tristar Home Video, containing a transfer that is a restored, high-definition, colour-corrected version of the film (superior to the original Criterion and BFI editions), however, it has no English subtitles, as it is a French product for French cinephiles.

The Hawaii film company HK Flix released an NTSC-format of Salò through distributor Euro Cult in 2007. It reportedly contains the uncut Criterion Collection release – yet of better quality. The HK Flix edition is a version of the BFI's Salò DVD, complete with a factory imperfection at the film's 01:47:19 mark; however, its quality is unequal to that of the Gaumont DVD, and, still, it is missing a scene. The DVD cover is a sketch of Pasolini in sunglasses; Paolo Bonacelli's name is printed beside it. Moreover, despite accusations of boot-legging, Euro Cult asserts their legal entitlement to distribute the Salò DVD in the U.S.

In its online blog, On Five,[24] the Criterion company said, in November 2006, that they re-acquired the distribution rights for Salò. In May 2008, Criterion released the cover art of the reissue DVD, slated for release in August 2008, comprising two discs: (I) the film (with an optional dubbed-English track) and (II) three documentaries and new interviews.[25]

In August 2008, the BFI announced a new release of Salò on both high-definition Blu-ray Disc and standard-definition DVD, claiming it to be "fully uncut and in its most complete version," and that "the film has been re-mastered from the original Italian restoration negatives" and would be accompanied by a second disc containing extensive additional features.[26] The BFI re-issue contains the missing 25 second poem, but according to Criterion's website this sequence is not an official part of the film, because the footage is not present in the interpositive that the camera negative was struck from (which formed the basis of their transfer).[27]

The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray Disc on 4 October 2011.


  1. ^ "SALO, O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 16 November 2000. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "C I N E B E A T S :: Pupi Avati". Retrieved 24 February 2009. 
  3. ^ "DVD Savant Review: The House with Laughing Windows". Retrieved 24 February 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Chicago Film Critics Association (October 2006). "Top 100 Scariest Movies". Filmspotting. Archived from the original on 17 January 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  5. ^ "Salò – The 120 Days of Sodom" by Ramsey Campbell, Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, ed. Jack Sullivan, p.368.
  6. ^ This paragraph draws heavily on the article "Case Study: Salo on the Students' British Board of Film Classification website.
  7. ^ "ACLU Arts Censorship Project Newsletter". Retrieved 24 February 2009. 
  8. ^ Browne, Rachel (20 July 2008). "Sadistic sex movie ban 'attacks art expression'". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  9. ^ "Film Censorship: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)". Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Bodey, Michael (6 May 2010). "Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo cleared for DVD release". The Australian. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Bodey, Michael (16 April 2010). "Sex-torture film cleared". The Australian. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  12. ^ Lane, Terry (1 March 1998). "Salo is re-banned (in Australia)". The Sunday Age ( Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  13. ^ Salo – 120 Days of Sodom |
  14. ^ "Salo". JB Hi-Fi. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  15. ^ "Salo (Blu-ray)". JB Hi-Fi. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  16. ^ "NZ Register of Classification Decisions". Office of Film & Literature Classification. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  17. ^ "Who voted for which film". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Goodsell, Luke (18 June 2012). "Five Favorite Films with David Cross". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  19. ^ "Rainer Werner Fassbinder / Favourite Films". They Shoot Pictures. Bill Geogaris. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  20. ^ "100 Best Films of the 20th Century by the Village Voice Critics' Poll". Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  21. ^ "The Essential 100". Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto International Film Festival Inc. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c Pier Paolo Pasolini, di Serafino Murri, casa editrice Il Castoro, edizione 2008
  23. ^ Mario Sesti, La fine di Salò, extra del DVD La voce di Pasolini, di Mario Sesti e Matteo Cerami.
  24. ^ On Five
  25. ^ "Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  26. ^ "Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom: Dual Format Edition (Blu ray + DVD) RRP 22.99". BFI Filmstore Italy. British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  27. ^ Hendrickson, Kim (27 August 2008). "Because You Can Never Have Enough . . .". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 

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