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Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

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Four fascist libertines pick up nine adolescent boys and girls in World War II Italy and subject them to 120 days of physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma), also known as Pasolini’s 120 Days of Sodom on English-language prints and just Sal, is a 1975 horror art film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film is a rough adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s 1785 novel The 120 Days of Sodom (first released in 1904) with the story’s setting updated to the World War II era. Pasolini’s final picture was released three weeks after his death.

The plot revolves around four affluent, corrupt Italian libertines during the fascist Republic of Sal (1943-1945). The libertines abduct 18 youngsters and subject them to brutal violence, sadism, and sexual and psychological torment for four months. Political corruption, consumerism, authoritarianism, nihilism, morality, capitalism, totalitarianism, sadism, sexuality, and fascism are all explored in the film. Inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, the plot is divided into four sections: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood. In addition, the film makes several references to and discusses Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1887 book On the Genealogy of Morality, Ezra Pound’s poem The Cantos, and Marcel Proust’s novel sequence In Search of Lost Time.

The picture made its world premiere at the Paris Film Festival on November 23, 1975, and had a limited theatrical run in Italy before being banned in January 1976. It was released in the United States the following year on October 3, 1977. The film was controversial upon its premiere and is still prohibited in many places because it portrays youngsters exposed to severe assault, torture, sexual abuse, and murder.

The film’s convergence of subject substance, spanning from political and socio-historical to psychological and sexual, has sparked significant critical debate. Various cinema historians and reviewers have complimented and criticized it, and the Chicago Picture Critics Association rated it the 65th-scariest film ever made in 2006.

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