Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1976)

Genres - Drama, Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Sex Horror  |   Run Time - 117 min.  |   Countries - France, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is an intensely challenging film, an endurance test which some will find provocative and rewarding, but which many are likely to find repulsive and repugnant. Viewers should be warned: this is not an easy film to watch by any stretch of the imagination. The entire film is a series of increasingly violent and humiliating exercises in sadism, which become increasingly graphic as the film progresses; the final "Circle of Death" is excruciating to view. Yet it is not simply the explicitness of the decadence and cruelty on display that makes Salo the uniquely disturbing experience that it is. Indeed, other films are more graphic in this area. But these other films tend to present these experiences in an ironic, campy or otherwise contextual manner that lessens their impact. Salo takes a purposely distancing view, a "hands off" approach that is much more harrowing and that relentlessly drives home its intended atmosphere of hopelessness and impotence. Its creator, Pier Paolo Pasolini is intent on getting across his message that there are depths of humanity that are intensely vile and repulsive and that to ignore the existence of this can only lead to its re-emergence and domination. He is also making implicit statements about how this depravity is a feature of both Fascism and capitalism. Pasolini purposely makes Salo a disturbing and disgusting experience to drive home his points; whether a viewer feels that sitting through two hours of sadism in order to absorb this point is worthwhile or not will influence his reaction to the work. Objectively, however, it can be said that Pasolini's intentionally static direction is impressive, as is his ability to create tension despite this static quality, and that orino Delli Colli's cinematography and the physical production are stunning.