Salò, A Brutally Reminiscent Film For The Times
Along the spectrum of political philosophies, fascism is placed on the far end of the right, characterised by dictatorial ultranationalism. The political ideology emerged at the start of World War I. Desperate to unite the country from foreign influence, the authoritarian leader takes over state power and the military. Personal agencies are limited under strict state surveillance, and propagandistic activities are imposed as a mean to suppress opposing ideas. Behind a façade of patriotism, mysterious disappearances, disproportionate distribution of power and perverse activities lurk.
Transporting ourselves back to Italy's Anni di Piombo, or the Years of Lead, which lasted from the late 1960s to the late '80s, political unrest was at a peak. Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom was released in the middle of it all, in 1975, and right after the director was assassinated. To commemorate the sacrifice Pasolini made in the name of art and the people's rights, we would like to revisit the film on the anniversary of his death as 45 years onward, its importance resurges.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is an adaptation of Marquis de Sade's The 120 Day of Sodom, a novella written in secrecy during the author's incarceration in the Bastille in 1785. The film adds Salò as a metonym to Mussolini's fascist regime, telling the story of four powerful men and the 18 teenagers they have kidnapped. Behind the walls of a palace, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President, along with four veteran prostitutes orchestrate numerous heinous ways to torture and exploit their victims.
In this harem of twisted and violent kinks, the incarcerated youngsters are stripped naked and treated like dogs. As the prostitutes recount their horrendous experience, the four libertines carry out orders of abuse against the young boys and girls. From verbal humiliation, coprophilic acts to murder, the things the old men do to the children are too much to see, even for jaded audiences.
The film is divided into four parts, inspired by Dante's circles of hell: Anteinferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit and Circle of Blood. By the last circle, as oppression turns the youth against each other, "traitors" of the regime are ultimately slaughtered by guards called "studs". Those who obeyed, meanwhile, are merely rewarded with dim hope of returning home.
Pasolini was very explicit in referencing the fascist regime. The four young studs wore the uniform of the Decima Flottiglia MAS, a military unit created during the Italian fascist regime. The boys carry out their orders and are given privileges, but near the end when a moment of humanity is glimmered amongst the guards, we realise that they, too, are coerced against their better judgment under the regime.
To be clear, Pasolini was against the right-wing fascists but did not side with the students. The students were fighting in the name of the working class but for Pasolini, the opposing police force was the true lower class, forced to be under the government. Unlike them, students could afford education and that, for the director, was hypocrisy.
Violence in any form is never acceptable. Those in power are prone to abuse their power without sufficient opposition and checks to balance out the power. The Italian years of violence and terrorism is a good lesson for us all to learn from, in order to not allow history to repeat itself.
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