director Pier Paolo Pasolini
I was reading an article about movies that film critics were afraid to watch, for one reason or another. Too disturbing, exploitative, disgusting. The one common theme was Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, provocateur film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, which I had never seen. In fact, I’d never seen any Pasolini movie, even though I’d queued a few up when I read a list of director Michael Haneke’s favorite films.
Of course, I read a list like that for films I want to see.
Pasolini moved the story to the late Fascist regime of Salò, but otherwise it keeps to de Sade’s main story. A group of aristocrats holes up in a palatial chateau, with a group of teenaged men and women to use as sex slaves, and experienced prostitutes to titillate them into the most indulgent indecencies that they can conceive of. The ritual moves through four segments, the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood, if that gives you an idea of how this thing goes. It’s not just sexual abuse but coprophilia and coprophagia and ultimately torture and execution.
As grotesque and outrageous as it sounds (and is), it’s really very metaphorical. A class critique through overt and gruesome extreme. In a sense, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is playing a similar hand. In lurid detailing of moral depravity, heartless abuse, indulgence of the worst of human nature, the extremity of the detail echoes the depth of perversion of the subject. In this case, the Fascist elite. For Ellis, 1980’s soulless businessmen.
Notorious as it is, the film essentially critiques the crimes of its prurient villains, and in essence, the nature of humanity. It’s not an erotic thrill for the viewer, though I suppose there would be some people who would find the exploitation of young innocents, licentious indulgence of the powerful, perhaps has some fantasy appeal. A bit frightening if you ask me…that is, to enjoy the film. But it’s less disturbing than other films I’ve seen. It does make me curious to see Pasolini’s other work.