A special warning for this trailer – graphic violence, and this is only the tip of the iceberg!
It’s not too common for me to add a more serious and ‘intellectual review’ but sometimes, because the movie requires it, it has to be. So bear with me and I promise to the next review will be as funny as usual.
Salò is a pretty special kind of cult movie, it’s true Art-House and Italian Cinema but is also notoriously hard to watch – even for the hardened cult enthusiast. If you enjoyed Hostel, A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede and other such movies, this might be right up your ally – if not you may as well not bother, unless of course you really are into Art-Film/Italian (Classic) Cinema.
The movie is, in ways, groundbreaking as it was essentially way ahead of its time with how far it went and using violence and lust as pure entertainment upon itself. Though the movie definitely has something to tell, it is by all means gore porn and especially the latter – porn – “as much as it can be” without actually displaying people having real sex on film. An important note is that the entirety of the film bathes in intellectualism, libertine views and surrealist philosophical meanderings.
The plot centres around the latter days of the fascist Italian Social Republic – de facto The Republic of Salò from which the movie lends its name – with everything falling apart a group of powerful men; a duke, a bishop, a magistrate and the president decide upon feasting in the most deplorable ways possible. Why? Well, one could presume that with the closing in of the Allies and “free” Italian forces the men are well aware that they are royally screwed. So… You might as well do everything sick and disturbing thing you can possibly think of?
This group of men sets off with marrying each other’s daughters, which is one thing, but then begin a search for all the “hottest” teens around town – they find and buy them from local orphanages and simultaneously recruit able, young men in their teens to serve as guards. They all gather in a secluded castle to begin their games. What happens from this point on borderlines on a roller coaster from hell.
The guards, a number of entertainers (a storyteller, pianist etc.), staff and the men take an oath to indulge only in the most obscene acts possible and afflict as much human suffering as possible upon the hapless orphans. This is where I may add that in order to watch, let alone, enjoy this movie you should not in any way possible be opposed to an almost non-stop acts of, not too attractive, middle-aged men “sodomizing” each other, torturing desperate victims and eventually even indulging in the act of eating human faeces – yes, poop.
The movie seems, largely, to be founded on sexual anger – not unsurprising given the director’s, Pier Paolo Pasolini, undoubtedly endless struggles as a homosexual in the (even today) strongly conservative Italy of the 1970’s. It’s not hard to tell that the movie is a cry for freedom and a counter reaction to being sexually restraint – essentially the movie does everything not allowed or accepted and then into extremes. However, that doesn’t automatically make it an enjoyable or even one really worth your time.
Try to think up every possible form of torture, everything and in particular sexually related, even all the things you don’t want to think of. Write them down onto a sheet of paper and you will probably be able to cross them off one-by-one as the movie unfolds. All is done in graphic detail, including the act of eating poop as well as the various gruesome effects of torture.
The plot revolves around three “major acts”, which I won’t further spoil because the “faeces eating” is already part of them. It largely drifts on the extreme suffering of the victims and the philosophical insights of their torturers combined with, rather long, stories of sexual deviance including but not limited to paedophilia, rape and incest told by middle-aged prostitutes, accompanied by piano as well as extended quotes from – or at least finding basis in – works such as those of the Marquis de Sade, from whose name the word “Sadist” was derived so I’m sure you can figure out the extend of it.
I would tell more of the plot but it really does largely evolve around intense torture – I’d just be giving everything away. Again, in case you still didn’t get it, the movie is extremely graphic and really doesn’t know any boundaries. And no, I’m in no way opposed to homosexuality – it’s just that with the intense presence in the movie you have to be able to deal with it. The same goes for “fun in the bum”, which I’m all for, but this is taken to new heights in this film and then we’re not even talking about the extreme torture that is ever present.
Though the movie does have a violent climax, the ending is still rather abrupt and, even though I wasn’t quite sad that it ended – I was relieved if we’re being honest – it still felt like a bit of a bummer. In a way the movie fizzled out and leaves us without an obvious conclusion but perhaps that was the meaning of it.
What can we say? It’s an Italian movie! The acting is like the Italians themselves: Dramatic with great passion and endless enthusiasm. Of course performances are completely over the top but that has its charm – but you have to be willing to overlook the dramatic falling to the ground, the long wails of despair and endless dialogue.
Given you can and do, there isn’t much to criticize acting wise, all actors deliver a pretty solid performance on their parts and do what they can with their individual roles.
Of course Italian film isn’t quite like Hollywood and shouldn’t be compared too closely, but it is entertaining regardless – though many of the typical Italian jokes fall flat, I did chuckle a number of times over “the President’s” wise cracking and strange humour.
For what it’s worth, aside from the four main antagonists, almost everyone is easy on the eyes – but then again, pretty much everyone in Italy seems to be. I would further mention the individual actors, but most of us will have no idea who they are and most (none?) of them haven’t ascended into stardom. I’ll leave that part alone other than compliments for their performance.
Sound(track) & Special FX
The soundtrack of the movie is rather typical, in the sense that it is borderline absent. The only music we hear is played right there in the scenes themselves – the simplest 30’s and 40’s piano tunes that make the contrast between what is being spoken of or shown all the more absurd and surreal. It seems to be present more for ambient purposes rather than trying to drive the tension to an absolute height as we are accustomed to from Hollywood.
The Special FX of the movie, as underscored many times before in this review, are absurdly graphic – but it is noteworthy that they are generally very well done. It looks real, it feels real and I thank God there is no “SmellVision” for TV yet because I have no doubt they would smell real too. And that, especially, is a blessing because certain scenes you most certainly would not want to smell!
The movie does a more than adequate job both in regard of sound and visual spectacle but expect no “epic events”, the movie doesn’t carry them and it doesn’t need to. It’s strength is in what happens in your mind as it all unfolds, not just in what you see and hear.
Being an Italian movie the Art-Direction is of course, gorgeous, best described like the Italian woman: You just “have” to fall in love with her. She’s irresistible – and she knows it.
Every scene, every piece of clothing, every prop is in excellent condition and used to maximum potential all throughout the movie. In that aspect there’s much to learn from this film, even in all its doom and gloom it is still a feast for the eyes even though it doesn’t need vibrant colour or over the top effects. It succeeds in the same way Italian fashion does too – it knows what it’s doing and does so with enticing confidence.
7/10 – Yes, that’s a very high rating for a movie I didn’t even enjoy that much and wouldn’t really recommend to, well… Anyone? But hear me out, Salò set a new standard three or four decades ahead of most of its successors, such as Hostel. It broke all possible rules of what was acceptable, it’s teeming with gore and bizarre thrills to a never ending extend.
Salò will make you not believe your eyes and your stomach turn, it’s completely over the top and proud of it. Those are all qualities that a cult film aspires to, it undeniably has all of them and deserves, in the least, that recognition.
5/10 – Ah, there we go! Surprised between the difference in rating? You shouldn’t be – Salò isn’t really an enjoyable movie. It was never meant to be, it does however make you question your own morals and ethics and will probably bring you close to turning it off several times.
Even though the movie is total “gore porn”, it is deeply intellectual and I don’t think many outside of that audience will enjoy the effort watching this movie brings. I’m biased enough to believe that in order to truly, genuinely, enjoy this movie you must in some way have Sadomasochistic tendencies – there really isn’t any other way to really enjoy everything that’s happening.
In order to “feel” the movie from any other perspective, you would have to look through all the layers of rape, torture and violence and question what is going on behind the movie’s concept. What it is trying to tell us and what we do with that? In itself that may be admirable, but enjoyable? Not too much for the average movie viewer.
I wouldn’t recommend watching Salò “just to watch it” – if you must, watch it for a reason. This is a movie that ultimately appeals to people who either hardcore into gore porn or are watching for the deeper meaning, the rest of us will finish the movie thinking: “What the hell did I just watch?”.
How to Watch & After Thoughts.
Well, like I said – either you’re watching this movie on assignment, so you’re probably a film- or philosophy student, in which case you’ll probably be watching with a pen and paper, or you’re a gore porn enthusiast. You may want a stiff drink near by either way.
But for those who aren’t gore porn enthusiasts but just want to watch for the hell of it, go for it – but make it into a game. As I suggested earlier, make individual lists of torture and write them down, every time one pops up onto the screen – slam down a tequila. Or the first one that gags, gasps or turns away from the screen pays for pizza. That is, if you still want pizza after watching this movie. Buen apetito… Oh, and – ”Can you say: ‘I don’t like rice!’ with your mouth full?”*
*You’ll get it once you’ve watched the movie.
Did you know the director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was killed before the movie came out? He died dramatically after being run over several times with his own car – the circumstances never became entirely clear though a young man, driving in his speedy Alfa-Romeo was caught and convicted of the murder – but word has it that several reels of this film were stolen, possibly by the mob, and used to extort poor Pier. When he went to pick them up it all may have spun out of control resulting in his gruesome death. Is-a the, how you say-a? The tragedy, no?
Where to Watch
If you’re interested in seeing this movie, it can be bought on Amazon here but also occassionally floats by on AMC (formerly the MGM Channel).