120 days of Sodom (not to be confused with Buñuel’s L’Âge d’Or) was Pier Palo Passolini’s final film. Carrying on with the Neorealist themes that flowed through his early work such as ‘Accattone’ and ‘Porcile’, the 195 release focuses on mans inhumanity to man whilst also exploring themes such as Nietzsche’s theory of a ‘Superman’ and existentialism.
The film opens with the 4 highest ranking men in Italy, The Bishop, The Judge, The Duke and The President conspiring to turn their darkest and most disturbed sexual fantasies into reality, From that point it is not an easy film to watch to say the least. Based on the book written by Marquis De Sade ‘120 Days of Sodom’ is a rip-roaring ride through the world of debauched Italian fascist lust.
The film follows the lives of 16 teenage Italian peasants who have been locked away in a castle and used purely for the sexual entertainment of the 4 aristocrats. With the help of hardened prostitutes the evil-dooers (or ‘libertines’ as they like to be known as) set about to psychologically destroy their captors into engaging in the most horrific acts the human mind can think of (it is worthy to note that the actual term sadism is derived from Marquis De Sade’s last name) what follows is a heart wrenchingly tragic and often difficult to stomach viewing experience.
With no character development or real narrative to speak of you might be mistaken into thinking it has nothing to offer other than pure shock value which is part true as you find yourself 45 minutes in and nothing really has happened other than some nasty right-wing men have snatched 8 boys and 8 girls from the nearby town of Salo. But then you realise what the film is doing, slowly moving towards the shock of what you are faced with for the second half.
In the latter half of the film you are forced to endure graphic violent sadism, Coprophagia and forced incest. These things all burst out of nowhere and smack you round the face leavening you a little confused about why you are watching this film and ultimately what you are getting out of it other than a ‘cool’ film to tell your friends about. Then it all suddenly makes sense, the constant references to Nietzsche, the over powering fascist iconography and the underlying casual racism involving the servants at the castle. What Pasolini has done is taken the psychotic ramblings of De Sade and used them to make a point against him and others of the same ilk.
The main problem with the film however is that whilst watching, you feel that there is far to much emphasis on the act’s that the sadists force out on their victims as opposed to what makes their mind work that way, A good way to look at this movie would be ‘A Serbian Film’ made in the 1970’s, interesting enough when taken at face value but ultimately leaves you feeling empty and a tiny bit disappointed.