[I couldn’t find a poster for this movie that didn’t make me sad. No poster today. Here's puppies instead.]
As much as I like to praise films that take the rug out from under me, that eschew convention, that bully me to a pulp, that espouse a “there’s no meaning and we’re all fucked” ethos, occasionally I’m reminded of just how square I might actually be. I worry sometimes that I ultimately do crave cinematic order, that I want sunshine and puppies that fart rainbows. Maybe I desperately want to believe that there’s a reason for everything and everything will be ok in the end. Yeah, I like to claim out-there-cinema cred, but then a movie like Pasolini’s Salo comes around—or, that is, came along five years before I was born—and leaves me cowering in the fetal position, hoping that an army of adorable puppies will come along and make all the bad, bad nastiness go away.
So, Salo...yeah, it...um...goddamn, goddamn.
An updating of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini's film transplants the events of the novel from Eighteenth Century France to the waning days of Fascist Italy. Basically, a group of rich douchebags kidnaps eighteen youths and subjects them to endless sexual abuse, humiliation, torture, and eventually murder. Also, people eat poo. Lots of poo. Just so much poo. Classic literature adaptation, yo.
Um, yeah...so that’s Salo. But, of course, it is more than that. There was something of a purpose with this movie—I think. In fact, I actually kind of respect what I think Pasolini was going for with this movie. You see, though Salo is not based on specificactual events, it is an emotionally accurate deposition of Italy’s Fascist past. Pasolini’s attempt to expose his country’s criminal past is, in fact, more true than most national cinemas’ attempts to examine their respective countries’ crimes. How often, for instance, has the cinema dealing with America’s slavery past attempted to soft-shoe around the whole issue of people owning people? How often have these films depicted the Antebellum South in a wistful, nostalgic light? (What I’m saying, fuck Gone With the Wind)
We do this because, our countries being extensions of/elements of our individual psyches, it’s just damn hard to admit past wrong-doing. With Salo, Pasolini was rubbing his fellow Italian’s noses in the shit of their collective criminal past. ‘Bad, bad. Fascism bad. Don’t do it again.’ Of course, you don’t have to be Italian to get offended by Pasolini’s film. Few countries have met this film and not either outright banned it, or at least imposed heavy cuts on it. Few of us want to admit that people have the capacity for so much cruelty. (Also, poo = eww)
And Salo doesn’t let up. Though most films that subject audiences to this kind of abuse end on a cathartic note (the abused get revenge), Pasolini offers no respite. After the victims have endured endless torture, when all hope and meaning seem lost, when the night is darkest, they all get murdered. And as much as we may crave catharsis in cinema, the folks who suffered under Fascist rule bemoaned it much more than we the viewers of fiction ever could.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna watch this video on an endless loop.
Dave's Rating: A rating would be pointless