Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

02/17/2021 06:38

Film: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma)

Year: 1975

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti

Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi and Umberto Paolo Quintavalle



This is a movie that I didn’t hear about until I got into listening to podcasts. It was one that I added to a list of films to see, but I wasn’t rushing to see it. What was interesting is that I decided to move it up due to November being dubbed Italian horror month thanks to the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror. I decided to go down the list of Italian horror films in Letterboxd and this was the top rated one I hadn’t seen yet for review here on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast as a Feature. The synopsis is in World War II Italy; four fascist libertines round up nine adolescent boys and girls and subject them to one hundred and twenty days of physical, mental and sexual torture.

We start this off seeing that we’re in the town of Salò. In a room, four men make a pact and sign it into existence. The four are interesting in that they’re representing major parts of Italian culture at the time. We have royalty in The Duke (Paolo Bonacelli), religion with The Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi), courts with The Magistrate (Umberto Paolo Quintavalle) and government with The President (Aldo Valletti). I’m not entirely sure what he’s the president of, but they’re all fascists. The movie also informs us it is 1944-1945 in Italy which the synopsis does give us part of it.

In order to ensure that the men do not turn on each other, they all have a daughter and these men marry their daughter off to one of the others in the group. They then enlist the aid of Signora Castelli (Caterina Boratto), Signora Maggi (Elsa De Giorgi) and Signora Vaccari (Hélène Surgère) along with soldiers to round up 9 teen males and 9 teen females. Of the males, there are Carlo Porro (Bruno Musso), Tonino (Antonio Orlando), Lamberto Gobbi (Lamberto Book), Rino (Gaspare Di Jenno) and the rest of unnamed characters: Sergio Fascetti, Claudio Cicchetti, Franco Merli and Umberto Chessari. One of them is killed trying to escape on their way to the villa they’ve be kept.

Of the teen females, there is Fatimah (Fardiah Malik), Doris (Dorit Henke), Eva (Olga Andreis) are the named while also being: Giuliana Melis, Graziella Ancieto, Renata Moar, Antiniksa Nemour and Benedetta Gaetani. Both sexes are stripped nude and being examined to be as close to perfection as they can get.

When they arrive, they’re told that there is no God there. There is punishment to those that will pray or call out to him. They also will meet in the orgy room where they’ve be told to do sex acts and if they don’t obey, this can also result in punishment. They have no rights here, they’re this groups play things. The signoras that are there tell stories of their past and these men act out their fantasies of sexuality depravity on them.

That’s where I want to leave my recap for this movie and I’m going to make a bold statement to start off the next part here, this movie wasn’t as bad as I expecting. This tends to happen to me that after going into these more extreme films, I brace myself and then end up realizing that although what I’m seeing is horrible, my expectations were much worse.

What I was to re-iterate here though is that the things being done to these victims is horrific. That is what really makes this a horror film. I mean it starts with the selection process as both boys and girls are stripped down for inspection. I do mean boys and girls as well. The actors might not be that young portraying them, but the characters are under the age of 18. Things get progressively worse as they endure the sick pleasures of these men. Something else to preface here, I don’t like to kink shame, but in this case, these are unwilling participants. What gave me solace was that on set it wasn’t bad. The actors were treated well and made to feel comfortable. They also didn’t realize until the final product what the tone of the movie actually was.

To delve into this more, the story is divided into 4 chapters. It starts with Antinferno or Antechamber of Hell. It then goes to Circle of Obsessions, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood. These are representing Dante Alighieri’s structure of hell in Inferno. These chapters all make sense in the story. We have our introduction to get to the villa. Obsessions play out learning about what The Duke, The Bishop, The Magistrate and The President are all interested in. It gets progressively worse with what they force their victims to do until they go into full out torture and kill them. There are some that also die along the way due to what they’re subjecting them to as well.

What I find even more interesting about this didn’t actually come up until I looked into the movie. I knew the title, so I figured we would get something like we did. I didn’t realize that Salò was the name of the city that Bentio Mussolini’s Fascist government made their capital from 1943 until they fell out of power. It was relevant to the co-writer/director Pier Paolo Pasolini because his brother was killed there. It is also a reminder of the horrors of that regime as well. That was interesting to read. I know there is a scene where someone is forced to eat something disgusting. It is supposed to be a metaphor for consumer capitalism, which I can see, as well as the rise of junk food culture. I’ll admit that was lost on me. What I did get after seeing the names of those who set this up, we have all the major parts in charge buying into doing whatever they want due to the government in charge and able to enact their wildest fantasies.

This movie wouldn’t work as well though without the acting. I thought that Bonacelli, Cataldi, Quintavalle and Valletti are all deplorable. Their performances are great though. They legitimately feel like they’re these characters. It is sickening though to see what can happen when too much power is afforded. This stuff could be going on, but I highly doubt it now in this day and age. Back at the time of this film is set, for sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised at some point in history. Boratto, Giorgi and Surgère are also interesting. They’re prostitutes, so they’re there to give ideas and train these children to pleasure like they were. It is sickening, but they’re also nice to them. It is sad to see play out. The victims all do a great job in roles. It is one of those things that seeing the torture they go through, the effects it has on them is believable. There’s also an interesting commentary from them about defying the system since they know what the end result will be the longer they’re there.

The last couple of things would the effects and the soundtrack. They don’t really do a whole lot with either actually. Everything we get of the former is done practically. I have to give credit here as a lot of it is framing to make things feel realistic. There are some gross things with excrement. What I found interesting is that was done with chocolate, orange marmalade and other clashing ingredients. It doesn’t sound all that disgusting, but it was just off enough to get real reactions. A lot of what we get in this movie is just degrading to the victims. I have to give a lot of credit to the cinematography as well. That really helped and gives almost an arthouse vibe. The last thing here would be the soundtrack. It was done by Ennio Morricone. This is quite subdued with a jazz sound. I think that works in its favor. With what we’re seeing on the screen, I don’t want it to take over.

So now with that said this is really an interesting movie. Banning this without watching it or ignoring the merit it is trying to convey is really doing it a disservice. Can it be difficult to watch? Absolutely, but I think for more hardcore fans who can get past that, there are some really interesting aspects they’re going into here. The backdrop of the war coming to an end makes since. It feels like Rome before it fell where the tastes of those in charge have turned into depravity. They’re acting out their wildest fantasies on those that don’t have a choice. I think the acting helps bring this to life, the effects are harsh, but subdued enough to believe it. Do I think this is a masterpiece? No I don’t. There are things that can be taken from it for sure. It does run a bit long so keep that in mind. I really can’t recommend it to most people. You have to be prepared to see this one for sure. I would really say avoid this if you don’t like more artistic films. Overall, I’d say still say this is a good for what it is trying to do.


My Rating: 8 out of 10