Relocating the Marquis de Sade’s notorious novel to wartime Italy, this film has become synonymous with sexual deviance and bestial violence. Yet, Pier Paolo Pasolini had loftier ambitions than simply shocking the critics who thought his work obscene.
The plot here is brutishly simple: a group of dignitaries hole up in a remote castle, intent on enacting their unspeakably heinous fantasies using a group of captive youths.
But the action is, in fact, a political metaphor, with each of the men representing a social pillar that had delivered the nation into the hands of the Fascists – the law, the merchants, the aristocracy and the church.
The film contains some of the most nauseating sexual encounters ever simulated on film. Shit is eaten. Tongues are severed, eyeballs are gouged out, genitals burn . . . but degradation is often viewed from a distance or allowed to continue off screen, part of Pasolini’s strategy for making the audience uncomfortably aware of its own passivity. So devastating, it’s almost unwatchable.
Saló was to be director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film. He was brutally murdered in November 1975 with his mutilated and disfigured body discovered on the beach near the shantytown at Ostia. He was just 51.
Uberto Paulo Quintavalle
Pier Paolo Pasolini