Some films make you happy, some make you sad; quite a few leave you sappy, others leave you glad. Film is a visual medium meant to entertain. I'd say it's filled with artists, but nowadays, that cannot quite be said. An artist of cinema, in my opinion, is a man or woman who challenges our perception of the medium. They make a film that really, really aims to puzzle us with either its complexity or its content. Sure, at times, a filmmaker can come off as over-indulgent and pretentious; it happens. But I'm open to filmmakers who explore forbidden realms of cinematic art and show us things we would never have seen elsewhere. Not everyone is as open-minded; but I certainly am.
"Salo" is the kind of film that can be called art, and for a variety of reasons. It is not what most movies aspire to be; there is not a single entertaining or enjoyable moment to be found here. It is often cited as one of the most disturbing, violent, down-right sadistic films ever committed to celluloid, and hell, I agree with that all the way. I had an extremely difficult time watching it for the most part, as it is truly unrelenting and unforgiving in what it shows. It uses techniques and philosophies that have since been copied; and there are still highly disturbing films being made today, although I don't come close to believing that they could possibly ever achieve the level of depth and sheer reputation that this one has. I believe that, in spite of its constant struggle against the tides, the film can be admired and respected as long as one can put aside the imagery and the disgust. All of these things are expected, and in the end, I got absolutely no indication that the film's director - Pier Paolo Pasolini - was aiming for shock value alone; or at all. I feel he has crafted a powerful, metaphorical and unforgettable (if for all the wrong, yet right, reasons) experience. To me, this is what cinema is about; even if it is not what most films should be in the first place.
The story, and all you need to know about it, goes as followed. In fascist-occupied Italy (in the republic of Salo), four powerful, higher men kidnap eighteen men and women (9 for each sex) in order to choose a life partner for each of them to wed. This begins the "120 Days of Sodom" (this name serves as the film's alternative title), in which these eighteen innocents are forced to perform unspeakable acts of the violent, sadistic, and sexually depraved variety. Such things take up most of the film; with many extended scenes involving the fascist-supporting prostitutes in the occupied building recounting their sexual pasts in disgustingly graphic detail, all for the pleasure of the four powerful men.
Since I am sympathetic for those who might only THINK they are intrigued by the set-up and that they want to watch "Salo", I shall now describe some of the key "disturbing scenes" to you. Here are just a few good examples: rape, torture, the consumption of feces, the consumption of nails hidden in bread, the slicing of tongues, castration, and nipple-burning. Yet, that's just a taste of what you'll be in store for if you choose to see this film. Most won't want to take even a single step closer. This is understandable; "Salo" was not made for everyone - or most people, for the matter - and by no means do I recommend you watch it. That would be so, so wrong of me to do. However, if you are adventurous and can stomach even the most graphic, lewd depictions of sadistic sexual acts; then you might saw what I saw, and that is destructive artistry.
I know some people who claim they were so disturbed by the film that they chose to disregard any craft, any message, any moral, or any artistry that others might see in it. Again, this is something I can understand and sympathize with; but I still found redeeming factors, and enough of them to save "Salo" from being pure trash. This is something that it could have easily become. However, the writer of the novel that this film is based upon - Marquis de Sada - understands the dark corners of sexual existence, and his story explores it. I believe that the film adaptation was relevant for its time, and is still relevant now, when regarding the darkness of the human soul; and the violence, sexuality, and graphic nature of the media that we often view. It puts us in the voyeur's chair; now it's just up to us whether we can stay seated throughout the entire two-hour ride.
There are maybe two types of audiences that will appreciate "Salo". For one, there's the audience that enjoys "sick flicks" and shock cinema. They will not be disappointed by the film, as most of the graphic, disturbing depictions of each sexual and violent act are explicitly shown; yet they are still not watching it for any of the right reasons. Those who will see "Salo" for what it is are amongst the art film crowd; those who live and breathe art throughout every day in which they live. And yes, "Salo" is, whether you can see yourself admiring it or not, art; it's also a masterpiece. It is important, even if some will denounce such claims, and it is undeniably difficult to erase from one's memory. It will indeed be difficult sitting through it again, if I ever do, but at least now I will know of the impeccable reward that shall be offered in the end; a great film. My final words: if you want a "fun", "entertaining" work of art, perhaps you should look elsewhere (most definitely). If you want something that really makes you think on a variety of different levels, and in a surplus of different ways, then watch "Salo". I will say it again -that this does not count as a recommendation -as I only wish to pique the interest of those who care about art and what the word openly suggests. And when it comes to cinema as an art form, "Salo" is one of the most powerful ever made.
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall (ryguy4738)
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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A very loose adaptation of the Marquis DeSade's 120 Days of Sodomas transformed to film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, and perhaps the most disturbing and disgusting film ever made. It is also one of the most important due to it's blistering critique of fascism and idealism. 112 mins