Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

“We Fascists are the only true anarchists, naturally, once we’re masters of the state. In fact, the one true anarchy is that of power.”

‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1975, is a controversial Italian horror movie set after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. Four fascist noblemen re-enact the transgressive fantasies of the Marquis de Sade by kidnapping teenagers and subjecting them to abuse and sexual torture. To say it’s a difficult movie to watch would be an understatement – Pasolini refuses to offer any lightness to the events and the camera unrelentingly focuses on everything. Everything about this film feels uncompromising from the details of the abuses, the characterisation of both the aristocrats and their slaves to the decaying, warehouse-like rooms of the mansion it is set. In many ways this is the key to the success of the film as a horror: the extremities of the acts steadily increases, while the matter-of-fact way the camera witnesses them and the dead-eyed performances by the actors playing the sadistic kidnappers, serves to heighten this extremity. This is where the shock comes from, not the nature of what is happening, but rather Pasolini’s precise and intellectualised approach to presenting it. Fittingly this is his final movie (albeit owing to his murder), and it feels very much like the end of a path the director has followed after the hagiographic realism of ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew’ via the bawdy and explicit adaptations of ‘The Decameron’ and ‘The Canterbury Tales’. Having explored the picaresque literature of the middle-ages, Pasolini elects to take on Dante by way of de Sade, and this is the result: a movie that feels corrupt even down to the celluloid it is filmed on. But this isn’t a criticism – it’s clearly Pasolini’s intention to horrify and to create a politically-charged horror – and with this movie he is dramatically and almost wholly successful.

Would I recommend it? No. And now I’m going to watch ‘Paddington’ for the fourth time this year.

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