Continuing Simon Augustine's countdown of the Most Disturbing Movies (Read Part 1 for the first 13). [<< #3]
2. Salo (or 120 Days of Sodom) (1975) 10/9
This is high falutin' stuff for such a reprehensible list as this: it's the only Disturbing Film that is accompanied by a bibliography in the opening credits (just what an audience wants - homework). In this case, however, such ambitious gestures are warranted; Italian poet and provocateur Pier Paolo Passolini assembles all of his considerable directorial skill and visual mastery to deliver a really, really bad time -- an unflinching look at the savagery and absurdity of the sadistic impulse brought to its logical, and most banal, extreme.
Passolini takes the Marquis De Sade's exposition on violence and sex, 120 Days of Sodom, and transports it to a remote village called Salo in northern Italy during the years of fascist rule. A group of the creepiest middle aged Fascists you ever saw, with lots of pancake makeup, deadened stares, and twisted smiles methodically gather a group of innocent teenagers in a vast, ornate mansion for the express sole purpose of humiliating, defiling and torturing them. If this scenario was in loonier, more casual, or less talented hands, your more jaded filmgoers might guess that, in the exploitation vein, it aimed for kinky guilty pleasures.
Think again: Passolini, who was murdered shortly after the release of this, his last film, is dead serious in Salo and not screwing around.
This is about cultural and conceptual identity as a sadistic tool of oppression and murder - the murder of persons, of personas, of souls, of hope. No film has ever so communicated the seduction of power, the pompous insanity of political "theory" and philosophy removed from real suffering. It illustrates the effects of power when combined with philosophy to deny the presence, to erase the meaning, substance and possibility of another human being. Here, a complete lack of responsibility to the sanctity of other people masquerades as liberation. Self (national and personal) as unit of control; opposing selves as death; death as ritual; ritual as effacement. There is no more vital, or dangerous, theme in the movies or the real world.
Passolini patterns the escalating psychological and physical games, and the journey into the deeper recesses of the mansion, on Dante's Inferno, with a prologue ("Anti-Inferno"), and progressively terrifying circles of torment. He gives visualization to Aligheri's credo, "abandon all hope ye who enter here." By the time the Circle of Manias has been passed through, the Circe de Merde ("circle of shit") has ended and the final ring is entered, the Circle of Blood.
I, hardened veteran of Disturbing Night At The Movies that I am, turned to my equally distressed friend, and we both collectively uttered "Oh brother," in anticipation of what might come.
It was just as horrible as we imagined. The finale, in which one of the Fascists watches with cold voyeurism from a balcony as a young boy is sodomized while simultaneously being disfigured on the lawn of the mansion, creates one of those intense moments in which the viewer feels frozen and sees something she knows she'll never forget. In this scene there is no such thing as sex, no such thing as violence; only the exercise of dominance.
And #1 >>
Bookmark/Search this post with: