PIER PAOLO PASOLINI’S SALÒ
ART FILM OF THE WEEK
Italian, Catholic, Communist, and homosexual, the infamous Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote his own eulogy with this hard-hitting critique on fascism. No wonder he was assasinated for daring to present the neo-realistic production of a de Sade adaptation from hell, as the film adheres to a train-wreck aesthetic of what should never be looked at, but cannot be avoided once in view. Of course, the filmmaker’s murder may very well have been a mercy killing—we can see his ultimate despair through the disdain the director felt for contemporary society, his feelings that his world was plunging deeper into nihilism every second.
In a brilliant spin on the de Sade urtext (as well as the 120 Days of Sodom), Pasolini set the film during World War II; though, the film works to unmask contemporaneous horrors of a society in chaos. For example, when the ruling fascists force their victims to literally eat shit, a heavy correlation is drawn to the global proliferation of modern fast-food chains. Sexual excess is also brought to judgment subversively, eliminating the representation of eroticism as contained in earlier works of the same director.
To experience Salò often breeds the side-effects of fear and loathing. The film stock is faded-out, the static, long shots are disarming, and the cinéma vérité documentary style is nauseating to the point of hysteria. The imagery throughout displays the most graphic, and disturbing violence of any film to date. Still, the picture proves the point it sets out to establish: that the human race is headed for the doom of its own invention. To marvel at the spectacle of violence and transgression is also to take in resources of an eschatological moral tale. Pasolini’s cunning sound design offsets the gnarly visuals with big band music and classical piano riffs, a la A Clockwork Orange.
Executed so painstakingly, the burning question remains—how in the hell did they pull it off? Interesting references to Dante’s Inferno seal the emphatic display of sadomasochism with ecstatic literary value. Maddened by the encroaching (and, sadly, now overwhelming) cultural imperialism, Pasolini decided it was high time to unleash all of his demons at once. To purge his hostilities at the price of his own life was the only way for his hopelessness in modernity to ring true for others.
Without a doubt, the film is the best product of the glorious 70’s cinematic heyday. In fact, Salò is among the greatest films of all time, not only for its ability to arouse the core problems with humanity, but also in its depiction of actual atrocity inflicted throughout history.
Pasolini’s approach may not be subtle; however, his signature technique of positing reality as the only recourse for a possible future is, in this film, unashamed to go to the edge and fall off once or twice. Tragic as the story is, Pasolini laid down his life to point a camera directly at the face of fascism. For this reason, he was shot and killed, and for this reason, he will never die.
FYI: Good luck finding a copy of this DVD to watch (at least for our region DVD players). Salò is not only one of the best and most disturbing films ever made, it is also considered the hardest DVD in the world to track down, sometimes boasting $600 or more for a copy. If you are able to find it, however, you are sure to “enjoy” an experience that you may never have thought possible from a secondary, fictional representation.