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Set in the Nazi-controlled, northern Italian state of Salo in 1944, four dignitaries round up sixteen perfect specimens of youth and take them together with guards, servants and studs to a palace near Marzabotto. In addition, there are four middle-aged women: three of whom recount arousing stories whilst the fourth accompanies on the piano. The story is largely taken up with their recounting the stories of Dante and De Sade: the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. Following this, the youths are executed whilst each libertine takes his turn as voyeur. Written by
Essential Bibliography: Roland Barthes: 'Sade, Fourier, Loyola' (Editions du Seuil); Maurice Blanchot: "Lautréamont et Sade' (Editions de Minuit; in Italy Dedalo Libri); Simone de Beauvoir: 'Faut-il brûler Sade' (Editions Gaimard); Pierre Klossowski: 'Sade mon prochain, le philosophe scélérat' (Editions du Seuil; in Italy SugarCo Edizioni); Philippe Sollers: 'L'écriture et l'experience des limites' (Editions du Seuil) See more »
It is pointless, insulting, and redundant to buy into the defence/condemnation dynamic that Pier Paolo Pasolini's testament so snidely provokes and invites. In making what will remain one of the darkest and most vicious films ever made, Pasolini's bleak vision at the time of this films production in 1975 wanted to make the point that we are not free. We are limited by social restraints and political conditioning which makes us no better than the victims in this powerful, shattering cinema experience. That Pasolini was murdered by a male hustler in JFK-worthy circumstances - before he had time to utterly complete and polish the film - is an apt reminder of the forces of censorship and their merciless, cruel satisfaction in maintaining blank and reprehensible silences.
I refuse to join in the disinfecting and antiseptic treatments that people calling themselves supporters have applied to this film. There are moments of eroticism, beauty and even dark humour in this film and those who seek to castrate and deny Pasolini his humanity and complexity by pretending otherwise are naive if not duplicitous with those who placed this film in the category of "banned" in Australia. To deny Pasolini the distinction of having created a multiple, difficult film with various levels of engagement is to reduce his profound legacy.
Pasolini made this film to make people think hard and harshly and to contemplate themselves. The darkness of the cinema is part of that indictment and denying Pasolini this space for his film is pure evil. He was a disgusted and angry man and this film shares the passions, disapointments and loves of Pasolini. He wanted to change things. To help people. To provoke and make us ponder and contemplate ideas and arguments. That some will not is no revelation. But this is not some far off distant story - Salo is a political electric shock treatment as relevant today and tommorrow as upon its initial release (or non-release as may be the case). Its his most lavish and grand film and also his most personal. Throughout the film we are reminded that this microcosm of society implicates us - our surveillance of the events in this film is an act of violence and violation. Words are weapons wielded by the Duke and his merry bandits as they systematically annihilate the young people under their pointless control.
Pasolini is throwing Salo at us with the pride and courage of a protestor throwing excrement at a politician. This film is a political act. Australia is as dangerous a country as those demonised "foreign" countries with more extreme , exploitable examples of political censorship. Thankfully this film is available in Australia from certain sources but it remains denied its rightful place in the cinema theatre and general, legal release. But at least it can still be seen. The resistance continues. Like the young man who raises his arm in salute against his captors in Salo in the most dire and deadly circumstances. I do the same to Pasolini in less deadly but no less dire circumstance. To one of our greatest modern philosophers and visionaries, Pier Paolo Pasolini, we should be truly thankful.
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