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Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) Review: Depravity and Despair!

The young boy in the movie "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom" is tortured.

“Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” is a controversial and shocking film that portrays the brutal and perverse actions of four fascists during the final years of Mussolini’s reign in Italy.

Introduction and Overview

In Salo, which can be regarded as Pasolini’s testament, he delves into his staggering belief in the decay of fascism as if he were recovering from a febrile illness. The director of this “impossible movie” leaves a legacy that is hard to digest, in which he hints at the darkness of fascism with light and satirizes its brutality with sadism.

In The Weekend (1967), in which he satirizes the deadlock of the bourgeoisie whose lives are stuck on weekends, Godard uses the following words:

 “The horror of the bourgeoisie can only be overcome by more horror.”

Salò or 120 Days of Sodom; naked virgin girl and boy who are hostages hug each other.

Pasolini’s cinema always evokes this sentence from beginning to end. Because in order to overcome the horror in a hopeless, dark world, it is necessary to create a more extreme terror. Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975), in which we see all kinds of facets of darkness and wake up to horror at every moment, is considered Pasolini’s testament. Shortly after this movie is shown, Pasolini’s mutilated body is found by the roadside in Rome.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo; It adapts Marquis de Sade’s striking novel Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom to the fascist Italy of the 1940s. The bourgeoisie has chosen beautiful women and handsome men for itself. And he locked them in a castle. This is not just a place of pleasure woven with sexual fantasies. It is also a large, wide and unceasing power field. This is a place where the power expects endless obedience, builds its superiority through violence, and can do anything without being disgusted. It’s hard to digest. As the spectator, you can’t do anything, the cruelty of fascism sinks into human flesh like a nail. Desiring death is also not a solution, because no one can die easily here.

Pasolini creates mise en scene reminiscent of a renaissance painting from time to time. These are the moments that are blessed, waiting for God’s approval. It puts the hypocrisy of fascism in a high aesthetic, and it weaves the stage with a dazzling splendor. What Pasolini does is a poetic revolt, although it reveals his anger, it does not become rude, on the contrary, we find Pasolini aesthetics even where we look with the most disgust. Pier Paolo Pasolini does not turn his anger into a hindrance, but pierces his staggering belief in the decay of fascism as if he were recovering from a febrile illness. As its severity increases, it calms and soothes.

Brightness in Darkness: The Use of Light and Satire

Despite all this darkness, a pastel light catches our eyes. It is constantly bright. Everything that happens happens clearly, in the middle, and in a shining light. There is no space, no calm light that softens the audience. With bright clothes and bright colors, we dig into the irony of darkness. Pasolini alludes to the darkness of fascism with light, satirizing its cruelty with sadism. So much so that even the scene where the characters eat excrement turns into a feast. It is excrement served at a sumptuous meal. This scene, which we can also perceive as a grotesque satire, does not turn into humor. The stinking, painful side of the bourgeoisie, ironically, melts away under a white light.

Some situations come across as class issues:

  • The slaves are naked, the bourgeoisie is clothed.
  • Slaves are on a leash, the bourgeoisie is free.
  • Slaves are mute, the bourgeoisie is talkative.

We don’t even hear the victims talking among themselves, as if they had no language. A woman from the victims once exclaimed, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” This sentence, which is remembered as the last words of Jesus, is not only for the bourgeoisie; It is actually an invocation to the yoke of religion, to the inequality of God.

Class Issues and the Role of Fascism in Salo

One of the fascists is walking around with a notebook in his hand. If anyone acts against them or does not obey, he takes notes and from time to time he extends this notebook to the audience. Everything that could pose the slightest threat to their power is written in the notebook, because fascism keeps its own record. When we see the victims close to the finale talking and able to talk, everyone reveals the other’s vulnerability. Only the socialist raises his left fist instead of revealing and is killed on the spot.

A scene where teenagers are on the verge of consuming their excrement.

It is the fascist Italy of the 1940s. Every visible face, every outstretched arm is actually the image of fascism. Mussolini wanders everywhere, even if his body is not. In the stories, it is everywhere, in the eyes, in the hands of the fascists who torment their victims. Mussolini in Salo is a ghost. He is the one that causes everything and is invisible at the same time.

On the one hand, we are inside Salo, on the other hand, we are outside. Most of the time, our gaze turns to a fascist binoculars, and this is a look that reaches its climax, especially in the last scene. Pasolini seems to have devoted all his dexterity to aestheticizing fascism. He paints the horror from start to finish where he left his audience in the finale. He tries to overcome the horrors of the bourgeoisie with a more extreme horror. Pasolini, who does not break with poetry even in his most vulgar and daring scenes, unknowingly bids his audience farewell. In Salo he says a lot about the bourgeoisie, power and fascism. Everything he said shapes our view of art, life and dark fascism, and resonates in our ears today.

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Last modified: September 24, 2023