On the other end of the spectrum from Bunuel’s elegant surrealism is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 interpretation of Marquis De Sade’s most infamous novel, The 120 Days Of Sodom. Pasolini sets his work in fascist Italy, where four pillars of society round up an equal number of adolescent boys and girls under the threat of death to help them fulfill their most extreme fantasies and perversions at a remote villa. Four aging prostitutes are brought along to tell stories to the men while the adolescents are obliged to service them. The stories the women tell are ghastly tales of pedophilia and corophilia that arouse the jaded men’s libidos and results in a ritualistic slaughter of the young people – viewed from a distance through opera glasses as kind of a “performance”. >
This is a tough and disturbing film that shows sex as a simple mechanical function, completely devoid of passion. It also shows that it can become the ultimate expression of power and control. Before Salo, Pasolini made a trilogy of films – The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights – that celebrated unbridled sexuality. Originally seen as subversive by film-going, middle class audiences, the strong sexuality present in the films was eventually embraced by these same viewers. Pasolini made Salo in part as a reaction to this turn. Ostensibly a parable about Fascist Italy, the film also criticized it’s contemporary audience with a infamous “dinner” scene wherein the feces of the soon-to-be-slaughtered youngsters is graphically consumed.
Almost unbearably claustrophobic, Salo is a fascinating, if not horrifying vision of inhumanity and sexuality.
Incidently, in an almost fitting twist of fate, Pasolini was killed by a male prostitute shortly after this film was released.