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Watching the Unwatchable: Films Confront Torture

Saturday, January 23, 2010
8:30 p.m. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy, 1975)

Recommended for adults only; this film contains many graphic and disturbing scenes.


(Salò, o Le centiventi giornate di Sodoma). Pier Paolo Pasolini’s explosively controversial Salò explores the relationship between fascism and sadism: “The whole film,” Pasolini wrote, “with its monstrous, almost unspeakable atrocities, is offered as a huge Sadean metaphor for the Nazi/Fascists’ ‘detachment’ in their ‘crimes against humanity.’” Pasolini transposed de Sade’s novel 120 Days of Sodom from the eighteenth century to 1944, when a short-lived Fascist puppet government was set up in Salò, in Northern Italy. Four Fascists—a duke, the president, a magistrate, and a bishop—bring to a remote villa a crew of handsome soldiers and a number of beautiful adolescent boys and girls kidnapped from the town. They proceed to act out their sexual perversions on the young captives. Pasolini portrays these scenes in stark detail, maintaining a kind of distance, a false or emotionless quality that may be the most unbearable thing about the film.

• Written by Pasolini, Sergio Citti, based on the book by the Marquis de Sade. Photographed by Tonino Delli Colli. With Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Helen Surgere. (117 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From MGM)