To say Pier Paolo Pasolini was just a filmmaker, is quite possibly the biggest understatement one could possibly make. He was an active member in the Italian Communist party, a published poet, philosopher, and an activist. He constantly criticized consumerism, religion, and what he saw as a possible return to fascism in Italy.
In 1975 Pasolini was murdered in Rome, quite possibly for the film he had just finished earlier that year. Salo, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom, based in part on the book The 120 Days Of Sodom, by the Marquis De Sade. Pasolini adapted a storytelling method, similar to The Divine Comedy by Dante. It remains one the most controversial films ever made. It also happens to be one of my favorite films of all time. A detailed depiction of fascism, consumerism, and the corruption of power.
The story follows four Libertines, who all hold high positions of power. These include a duke, judge, bishop, and a magistrate. They kidnap 18 children, 9 male, 9 female and subject them to depraved acts of sexual abuse and torture. Simply put, they do this because they can. The children represent the oppressed population, nothing more than something to be exploited. They are also accompanied, by four elderly prostitutes. Their role is to weave tales of debauchery, to excite the libertines.
The original text was written on a scroll, during De Sade’s imprisonment in the Bastille, in 1785. It was thought to be lost for many years, and didn’t see publication until 1905. The manuscript, is Desade’s view of the clergy and upper nobility, and their hypocrisy. The actions of corruption of power.
The film follows much of the same pattern as the book does. Instead of France, Pasolini set his film in 1944 fascist occupied Italy. I should also note, that around the time of its’ release, there were several fascist parties springing up all over Europe. Just as the Marquis De Sade had done before him, Pasolini boldly told the world what he saw around him. Which is one of the reasons this film is as important to me as it is, any Italian film director could have made a film about Italy’s role in the Holocaust. Pasolini took a road less traveled, and showcased the depravity of his countries actions, from 2 decades before. I firmly believed he paid homage to the source material and understood the importance for younger generations to view their history, and know how ugly it was.
Salo is very different from the films in his Trilogy Of Life, which were eroticized, somewhat whimsical literary adaptations. These included, The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), and The Arabian Nights (1974). The first part of his incomplete Trilogy Of Death, it’s an amazing contrast of life and death. Hailing back to his roots in the neorealism movement, and films such as Mama Roma.
The process of filming was somewhat unique. The children who were hired for the film, all had no prior acting experience. Many actors were not told what was going to be in the scene, until just moments prior to filming. This was effective in giving a greater sense of realism, and reaction. Pasolini himself was behind every shot, and edited while still in the filming process. Much of the shots, are set up in an almost voyeuristic nature. Giving anyone watching the film, the view from the libertine’s perspective. Forcing the Italian film audience, to embrace their past, and to stare it in the face.
The films finale, is one of the most groundbreaking ever filmed. The children are finally test subjects in the ultimate activity of sadomasochism, murder. Showing scenes of extreme torture, filmed through the view point of Libertines binoculars. Once again, we have to become the voyeur. A requiem plays in the distance, while a reading of The Cantos by ezra pound is read over a wireless. Pound, himself a fascist, was also one of Pasolini’s favorite poets. Finally, 2 guards dance a slow waltz, completely desensitized to the carnage unfolding just outside.
“Nothing is more anarchic than power, power does what it wants” – Pier Paolo Pasolini.