It was 1943, the American advance from the South of the Italian peninsula forced the Fascists to withdraw to the North. Mussolini was liberated from the prison located on the Gran Sasso and chose a little town located on the west coast of the lake of Garda named Salò, as the seat of Propaganda and Foreign ministry of the new government. Indeed the offices were located in Brescia, Verona and Venice but due to the communication adopted in that period, people began to call it “Salò Republic”.
The movie shot by the director Pier Paolo Pasolini was designed to be the first of three films representing the Trilogy of Death, as a continuation of the previous Trilogy of Life. The interiors were created by Dante Ferretti, inside the abandoned Villa Riesenfeld at Pontemerlano, located a few miles near Mantua, towards Barbasso.
The plot was simple enough. During the Salò Republic, four fascists kidnap boys and girls who belong to partisan and antifascist families, and bring them to a countryside house. Once they arrive, they are trained to perform horrible actions, rape and be raped, commit acts of fetishism, be tortured, resembling a veritable Hell on Earth. To each kid is assigned a role, some of them have to be the oppressors while others have to be the victims. The four fascists who lead this diabolic game have meaningful names: the Duke, the Monsignor, the Excellency and the President. They formulate erudite thoughts about sexuality, so as to underline how culture can be used at own pleasure, to support our depraved ideas, if it’s necessary. The story is clearly based on the 120 Days of Sodom written by the French writer Marquise Sade in 1785, along with the implementation of Dante’s Inferno circles.
With this new framework, Pasolini manages to deliver a powerful and effective vision on how people are bended, by power employed by evil forces. The manipulation concerns a historical moment – World War II – but I think he uses it just as a context, because it happens in modern society, hidden in a subtle and sophisticated way.
The movie was shown in 1975 in Paris, three weeks after the murder of the director. It was released in Italy on the 10 January 1976, being strongly criticized due to the scenes and causing 31 trials to the whole production. The film was retired from movie theatres around the world, only to be released again in Italy 1978. Forty years later, contemporary to the 40th anniversary of Pasolini’s death, at the 72th Venice Film Festival it received an award for the best film restored.
Although this movie is not easy to be watched, due to it being designed for an adult audience, this is how it was intended to be, with the deliberately aim to challenge censorship. There is a some kind of substance in the direction and the scripts, accompanied by the soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone, which makes me thoroughly recommend it to you.
Salò or the 120 days of Sodom (english version)