Set during the time of Mussolini, Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's '120 Days of Sodom' concerns the adventures of four high-ranking fascist officials - a duke, a bishop, a banker and a judge - who lock themselves away in a palace with a retinue of servants and sixteen kidnapped teenagers, both male and female. They systematically torture and abuse the teenagers in a series of sadistic tableux involving coprophilia, necrophilia and murder. Banned all over the world on its initial release, this was Pasolini's final film.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom
(known in Italian as Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
) provoked howls of outrage and execration on its original release in 1975, and the controversy rages to this day. Until the British Board of Film Classification finally ventured a certificate in 2000, the movie could only be shown at private cinema clubs, and even then in severely mutilated form. The relaxation of the censors' shears allows you to see for yourself what the fuss was about, but be warned--Salò will test the very limits of your endurance. Updating the Marquis de Sade's phantasmagorical novel of the same title from 18th-century France to fascist Italy at the end of World War II, writer-director Pasolini relates a bloodthirsty fable about how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Four upper-class libertines gather in an elegant palazzo to inflict the extremes of sexual perversion and cruelty upon a hand-picked collection of young men and women. Meanwhile, three ageing courtesans enflame the proceedings further by spinning tales of monstrous depravity. The most upsetting aspect of the film is the way Pasolini's coldly voyeuristic camera dehumanises the victims into lumps of random flesh. Though you may feel revulsion at the grisly details, you aren't expected to care much about what happens to either master or slave. In one notorious episode, the subjugated youths are forced to eat their own excrement--a scene almost impossible to watch, even if you know the meal was actually composed of chocolate and orange marmalade. (Pasolini mischievously claimed to be satirising our modern culture of junk food.) Salò
is the ultimate vision of apocalypse--and as if in confirmation, the director was himself brutally murdered just before its premiere. You can reject the movie as the work of an evil-minded pornographer, but you won't easily forget it. --Peter Matthews