Is it possible to write a review of "Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom" without it sounding like a cautious warning? If so I have yet to the gain the ability to do so. For the past 40 years Pier Paulo Passolini's final film has been called everything from a masterpiece to the most atrocious thing to ever be put to screen. In my eyes, I have to side with filmmaker Bernardo Burtolucci and say it is both. It is "atrocious and sublime"; cold and soul shattering.
Throughout the film we are thrown some of the worst perversions known to man: People eating excrement, rape, eye gouging, and perhaps 4 of the vilest creatures to ever crawl onto celluloid. But with all this, the scariest part doesn't even lie on the films surface; it is in the symbolism. As much as I hate to say it (I mean REALLY), Salo is a look at the darkest parts of our own humanity. It shows us parts of ourselves that we never want to confront. We watch the film seeing one atrocity after another, yet never turn away (well I didn't anyway). Why do we do this? Is it out of curiosity or something more disconcerting? This is what truly makes Salo disturbing to me: These exact questions and the guilt that comes with them.
One thing I admire most about Salo is Passolini's attention to detail. If one looks at every aspect of the film (Good luck) they will see that even the little touches point towards Salo's main theme. The Soundtrack, eerily pleasant and upbeat, is made to seem like the pianist: It stares joyfully at these horrible travesties and does absolutely nothing as if not to care. The long shots isolate us away from the victims making us feel like cold hearted spectators, the rape scenes are used as a metaphor for the complete loss of everything (Dignity, freedom, happiness) under fascism. Heck even the credits, all of the captives are only called victims while the perpetrators names are given; this reminds me a lot of our own media and court system.
As hard as Salo is to watch, it is not a onetime film. It is a film that needs to be studied, analyzed, and taken into account. The film has Layer upon layer of themes: The corruption and hypocrisies of power, the death of the soul, fascism, etc. That is why I would recommend buying this film, because it is one giant iceberg. With that being said Salo should not be seen by everyone. The film is not just disturbing on a physical level but on a mental level as well. Salo turns politicians into monsters, people into things, and the world into a false landscape that has a horrible secret lying beneath its cracks. Quite frankly some people are better off not knowing what's down there.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Pros: Ridiculously effective in what it sets out to do, oddly pleasant cinematography, direction, great criterion DVD with fascinating essays
Cons: Possible Trauma, loss of appetite, death of sex