Movie Project #21: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Writers: Pier Paolo Pasolini & Sergio Citti
Country: Italy/France
Genre: Drama
Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti
Running Time: 116 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I like to push the boundaries of my film viewing, and Salo is widely considered one of the most disturbing films of all time.

Accolades: part of the Criterion Collection, 500 Essential Cult Movies, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

I had been told to expect the worst with Salo. Widely considered as one of the most disturbing films of all time, Salo‘s reputation is second to none. I had heard stories over the years from friends and fellow bloggers, nearly all of whom recommended steering clear of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film. Yet my curiosity persisted, eventually culminating in its inclusion in this year’s project.

Imagine my surprise when I found Salo to not be as painful as I expected.

Yes, this is a disturbing film and an unpleasant watch, but as someone who has unfortunately become desensitized to “shock” content thanks to the internet — one can only be so surprised after experiencing 2 Girls 1 Cup, Tubgirl and the like — this wasn’t as offensive as I imagined.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

Now, on the other hand, the film itself is an exercise in tedium and agonizing to watch in that regard. The plot is basically nonexistent — simply put, four wealthy fascists kidnap a group of 18 teenagers (9 boys, 9 girls) and subject them to grotesque forms of torture. That’s it. This happens for TWO HOURS.

These teens, whom are nude throughout most of the film, are raped, whipped and forced to commit extreme acts of sexual depravation (a number of which involve human excrement). None of this is worth showing even once, yet this happens over and over again with no real thought given to a narrative.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

This is meant to be a serious film, one that acts as some kind of ridiculous commentary on fascism, but it’s hard to take something like this sincerely. The actors that play the wealthy fascists often go completely over-the-top with their performances, with one in particular, “The President” (Aldo Valletti), being absolutely goofy. I even saw some of the kids struggling to maintain character during a few scenes by laughing inappropriately. Some of the more controversial scenes — such as the feces feast — are actually more darkly comedic than anything. The “special effects” (a mix of orange slices and chocolate) are not convincing in the slightest (not that I really want them to be), and the character reactions are absurdly exaggerated. For my money, Pink Flamingos was far more disturbing — that one goes to extremes that this one doesn’t dare.

In a nutshell, Salo is a poorly executed shock film that is meant to be justified as a political commentary. I’m not buying that, and quite frankly, this is an utter waste of time.


19 thoughts on “Movie Project #21: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom [1975]

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, this is one of the films on the list I avoid like the plague. I know of it, hell, some college cinema course show it to students for Pasolini’s anti-Fascist underpinnings and art. Its reputation precedes it. I doubt I’ll ever watch it. You’re a braver man than I, Eric. Thanks for the review.

  2. milambc says:

    I think it’s worth watching through once just because it is what it is and the hype surrounding it, but you’re right, while it is not necessarily pleasant to watch, I’ve still seen far worse films. For shock that has better purpose and storytelling, go with Antichrist or Martyrs. Those two, just off the top of my head, are fantastic, if you haven’t seen them.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      I completely agree that Antichrist and Martyrs are much better films, especially the former. I’ll never forget catching a screening of Antichrist without having any clue as to what it was about — that film has stuck with me ever since.

  3. John says:

    Everyone has their line, and it’s fecal consumption for me. And the other stuff in the film was really vile too- I don’t mean to diminish that- but the poop eating literally made me gag several times.

    What kills me about Salo is how out of control it is. It really didn’t need to be 1/100th as vile to drive home the fascist subtext or whatever.

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