06 October 2006

"We fascists..."

Actually I wanted a title like "The Most Disgusting Film Ever" but after some thinking I found out that I have seen much disgusting films (like some Chuck Norris' movies)...

Anyway, I have recently discovered a safe heaven of piracy near the Savelovskiy Vokzal (M.Savelovskaya). It is mainly a small Gorbushka specializing on OEM and computer parts; but there are some sporadic DVD shops. One of them had a window full of weird Japanese and European films and I paid a visit inside.

Normally you would expect a young Russian boy with numerous piercings listening to Goth metal in those kinds of "specialized" shops, but to my surprise, I have been greeted kindly by an old man. He was looking like a once hero of the soviet poetry living in poverty in a post-soviet realm (maybe he was). Realizing that I was very poor in Russian he even tried to help me with his Basic English. After browsing the dusty shelves (it seems that no one is interested in art any more) I was about to leave the shop but he made a gesture that he had some offers for me. Maybe he did some mediaeval CRM by the DVDs I have taken from the shelf and put a strange DVD on the counter. "My friend, this is not you can find easy" he said with a real thick Cossack accent. It was Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, one of the most banned movies in the world. I have heard about it from some friends but never actually tried to find and watch it...So God bless Mother Russia, maybe some day I will find some tactical nuclear missile heads for sale near my house...

So after a brief introduction to how I found this DVD, here is my review:

Anybody interested in literature, French culture or even seen some explicit cinema will recognize the name Marquis de Sade, he is one of the brightest (and sickest) minds ever. The Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini has founded the basics of this movie from one of his novels. Here is an excerpt:

"There is nothing neither fundamentally good, nor anything fundamentally evil; everything is relative, relative to our point of view. This point once established, it is extremely possible that something, perfectly indifferent in itself, may be indeed distasteful in your eyes, but may be most delicious in mine; and immediately I find it pleasing, immediately I find it amusing, regardless of our inability to agree in assigning a character to it, should I not be a fool to deprive myself of it merely because you condemn it?"
--Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom

Drawing on Sade's source material, but updating it and making it his own, Pasolini's (Arabian Nights, Medea, and the Canterbury Tales) Salò is the story of four aristocratic noblemen in Mussolini's Republic of Salo during the end of World War II. These four fascist individuals: the Duke, the President, the Bishop, and the Magistrate, conceive a horrible plan to kidnap 18 teenagers and live with them in an isolated mountain chateau, taking along their own daughters (who the four main characters have swapped and taken as wives to celebrate their bonds), an entourage of guards, and four old prostitutes.

Sealing their destinies...

Once there, they will spend the next 120 days listening to stories from the prostitutes. Each prostitute has a different specialty (one tells of simple sexual passions, another tells more explicit sexual fares (i.e. coprophilia-eating human excrement), yet another tells tales of genuine methods of torture, and so on. Each guy (as they call themselves libertines) has a small entourage, which he can use as he pleases as the stories fan the flames of his desires. What ensues is a nightmarish vision of subjugation, degradation, and destruction of the human spirit as the four libertines continually assault their captives in order to fulfill their own sick pleasures.

The Libertines' dance during the torture sessions

The film's performances are diverse and quite interesting. Most of the cast was made up of people with no prior acting experience. This makes for intriguing visuals, particularly in the film's teen characters. In a different film, this might have been a hindrance, but since Pasolini's making a statement on the nature of apathy and fascism, it actually strengthens the movie. (Actually I still wonder how they accepted to play in this movie)

Equally impressive are the four "heroes" of the film. Paolo Bonacelli (The Stendhal Syndrome, Caligula) turns in a particularly fine performance as the Duke. He's menacing and intriguing, often in the same scene. Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Quintavalle, and Aldo Valletti (who play the Bishop, the President, and the Magistrate respectively) turn in solid performances as well -- leering and delighting in the atrocities that they're perpetrating throughout the film.

Cold blooded murderers...

Pasolini's direction is inspired. Much of the film is shot in a very static fashion -- with a camera in a set position recording the events in the room with little or no movement (just like a theatre play). It gives the proceedings a documentary style feel that makes the film even more disturbing and cold. Pasolini also manages to build tension throughout the movie: from the film's opening segment, "The Circle of Obsessions" onto the disturbing "Circle of Shit" and concluding with the orgy of murders in the "Circle of Blood", Pasolini continually keeps the atrocity level rising ever higher -- even when it seems that things can get no worse, they do.

The film's certainly not for the squeamish or the easily offended. In Salò, rape and sodomy are usual scenery. Viewers are treated to a multitude of perversions, including feces eating (and I learned that it is orange jam with chocolate...but it seems so genuine), bloodletting, scalping, and finally brutal murder. This film is guaranteed to gross out even the most hardcore of viewers at some point.

Gruesome subject matter aside, Pasolini has a point. Much of the film's gore and violence is filmed at a distance, or takes place slightly off-screen, which allows the viewer to imagine events even worse than Pasolini could have filmed. When the film finally reaches the violent murders of its final act, the Duke watches the slaughter from a room above the killing fields, viewing it through binoculars (voyeurism) -- distancing himself from what gives him pleasure, but still delighting in it nonetheless. Pasolini also makes it fairly clear that he's indicting his audience and their passivity in watching this scene as well. The fact that these terrible acts are committed and viewed at a distance, without sound, makes them even more visceral and disturbing. Ennio Moricone has also added a bone-chilling soundtrack to this orgy of torture...

In the end, Salò is a powerful and disturbing film that looks into the darkest corners of the human psyche and never flinches from what it uncovers. Yes, it's exploitative, but it's also an artistic film made by a filmmaker who wanted to confront the frontiers of both mainstream cinema as well as humankind. Few can look back on Sade's novel or Pasolini's film with fond memories, but even fewer would admit to not being affected by their savage vision. It is for this reason that anyone who's serious about film should see Salò. I give it nothing less than my highest recommendation and avoidance as well.

The reason for my title "We Fascists..." is about the director’s attitude to the film. (The fact that his father had saved Mussolini from the edge of death, hasn't done much on his atheist and anti-fascist appeal). He wanted to show the ultimate degradation of human spirit and the surrender of honor and lives to the will of power.

There are some scenes where the director has a glimpse of capitalism. In one scene (in the part "Circle of Shit") one of the boys is forced to eat feces on the floor with a silver spoon.
Isn't that a marvellous satire of capitalism?

Finally, I would like to add a spoiler (...anyway you wouldn't ever watch this movie). In another scene, the entire group is eating feces in a well-laid luxury banquet table. The President (for sure, the sickest of all the fascists) asks one of the boys to put his fingers in his mouth and say "I cannot eat rice when my finders are in my mouth". The boy obeys, places his fingers and repeats the sentence. (I have to remark that they are eating shit). The President then replies "Then eat Shit!"...

Link to this film in IMDB

Note: Ironically, this would be the last film Pasolini would direct, as a young male prostitute murdered him shortly after Salò's completion.

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