Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Italian: Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma), commonly referred to as simply Salò, is a 1975 Italian art film written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, with uncredited writing contributions by Pupi Avati. It is based on the book The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade. The story is in four segments, inspired by Dante's Inferno: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. The film also contains frequent references to and several discussions of Friedrich Nietzsche's 1887 book Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, Ezra Pound's poem The Cantos, and Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time. It was Pasolini's last film; he was murdered shortly before Salò was released. Because of its scenes depicting intensely graphic violence, sadism and sexual depravity, the film was extremely controversial upon its release, and remains banned in several countries.
The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupt fascist libertines after the fall of Benito Mussolini's Italy in July 1943. The libertines kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, and sexual and mental torture. The film is noted for exploring the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality and fascism.
Although it remains a controversial film, it has been praised by various film historians and critics, and, while not typically considered a horror film, Salò was named the 65th scariest film ever made by the Chicago Film Critics Association in 2006 and is the subject of an article in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986).
PlotIn Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy, in 1944, four wealthy men of power, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate, and the President, agree to marry each other's daughters as the first step in a debauched ritual. They recruit four teenage boys to act as guards and four young soldiers (called "studs", "cockmongers", or "fuckers"), who are chosen because of their big penises. They then kidnap nine young men and nine young women and take them to a palace near Salò. Accompanying them are four middle-aged prostitutes, also collaborators, who recount arousing stories for the men of power, who, in turn, sadistically exploit their victims. The story depicts some of the many days at the palace, during which the four men devise increasingly abhorrent tortures and humiliations for their own pleasure. In the Anteinferno segment, the captures of some victims by the collaborators are shown, and, later, the four lords examine them. The Circle of Manias presents some of the stories in the first part of Sade's book, told by Signora Vaccari (Hélène Surgère). The Magistrate urges her to tell them every last detail in her stories. During breakfast, the daughters enter the dining hall naked to serve food. One of the studs trips a daughter and rapes her in front of the crowd. The four men of power, the whores, the guards, and the other studs laugh at her cries of pain. Intrigued, the President moons several slaves before making the stud have anal sex with him as well. Two victims are forced to marry. The ceremony is interrupted for a short time when the Duke fondles several victims and whores. When the ceremony ends, the bride and groom are forced to fondle each other in front of the men, who rape them to stop them from having sex with each other, during which the Magistrate engages with the Duke in three-way intercourse by worshiping his buttocks before penetrating his anus with his penis. Another day begins with the victims being forced to act like dogs. When one of the victims, Lamberto, refuses to do so, the Magistrate forces him before whipping him. The Magistrate tortures his daughter by tricking her into eating food containing nails. The next day, the Duke shares a passionate kiss with the boy Rino, who, seemingly attracted to him, kisses the Magistrate. One girl expresses her sadness over the situation. She tells Eva, her friend, that she does not think she can take much more. In the Circle of Shit, non-penetrative sex gives way to coprophagia. As Signora Maggi tells her story, the President notices that one of the studs seated next to him has an erection and fondles the stud's penis through his pants. Another stud uses a female victim's hand to masturbates himself. As the story continues, Signora Maggi tells how she killed her mother, and Renata cries, remembering the murder of her own mother. The Duke, sexually excited at the sound of her cries, begins verbally abusing her. She begs him to stop, which makes him more ruthless. The Duke orders the guards and studs to undress her. During this, she begs God for death, and the Duke punishes her by defecating in front of her and forcing her to eat his feces, making Rino rub his genitals as she does so. The President exits the chamber to masturbate. Later, the other victims are presented a meal of human feces. Graziella again tells her friend that she does not think she can take much more. During a search for which victim has the most beautiful buttocks, Franco is picked and is promised death in the future. The Circle of Blood starts with a black mass-like wedding between the studs and the men of power. The men angrily order the children to laugh, but they are too grief-stricken to do so. The Pianist and Signora Vaccari tell jokes to make the victims laugh. The wedding ceremony ensues with each men of power exchanging rings with the studs. After the wedding, the Bishop is sodomized by his stud. After, the stud refers to his huge penis as the Bishop's "friend", which will be available for his enjoyment in the future. The Bishop then leaves to examine the captives in their rooms, where they start systematically betraying each other: Claudio reveals that Graziella is hiding a photograph, Graziella reveals that Eva and Antiniska are having a secret sexual affair, and a collaborator and the black servant are shot after being found having sex. The victim Umberto Chessari is appointed to replace Ezio. Toward the end, the remaining victims are called out to determine which of them will be punished. Graziella is spared due to her betrayal of Eva (whose name is not called and who is absent in this scene), and Rino is spared due to his submissive relationship with the Duke. Those who are called are given a blue ribbon and are sentenced to a painful death. The victims huddle together and cry, pray and one in particular begins to react from the horrible meals he's been fed. They are then murdered through methods such as branding, hanging, scalping, and having their tongues and eyes cut out, as each libertine takes his turn to watch as voyeur. The soldiers shake hands and bid farewell, and the Pianist commits suicide due to her grief. The film's final shot is of two young soldiers, who had witnessed and collaborated in all the atrocities, waltzing together.
- Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke (Duke of Blangis); tall, strongly built, bearded, chauvinistic, and very sadistic; enjoys tormenting female victims with verbal abuse and degrading them, his favorite victims being Renata and Fatimah. Highly sexually potent. Shows loving feelings for the male victim Rino and allows him to live at the end.
- Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop; extremely sadistic. Writes down several victim's names for punishment. May have a soft spot for Graziella.
- Umberto P. Quintavalle as The Magistrate; mustachioed sadomasochist; fit and balding; enjoys bullying the victims, yet shows joy from being sodomized. Very strict.
- Aldo Valletti as The President; scrawny, weak and crude. He enjoys dark humor and painful penetration to himself and others. He is passionate about anal sex even when having sex with women and girls, refusing to have vaginal intercourse with them.
- Caterina Boratto as Signora Catelli, a prideful, cruel whore who jokes about horrible instances. Tells stories during the Circle of Blood
- Elsa De Giorgi as Signora Maggi, a coprophiliac who finds no shame in defecating in front of others. Committed matricide for a nobleman. Tells stories during the Circle of Shit.
- Hélène Surgère as Signora Vaccari; lively and polite, she was molested as a very young child, but enjoyed it. Tells stories during the Circle of Manias.
- Sonia Saviange as The Pianist; soft-spoken, she plays continuously during the day, but is secretly very distressed at the actions around her. Commits suicide during the final day.
- Ezio Manni as The Collaborator, a guard who falls in love with the Slave girl. He is aware of his fate when he is found out, and is shot to death while holding his fist in the air in a socialist salute.
- Inès Pellegrini as The Slave Girl, a black slave in love with the Collaborator. Disobeyed orders by engaging in intercourse without the presence of the Masters. Is shot after the Collaborator.
- Sergio Fascetti – Forced to marry, but kept from actual intercourse. He is then raped by the Duke. In the end, he is branded.
- Bruno Musso – As Carlo Porro in the film. Outspoken. Shows a foul mouth even to the Men of Power. One of the Magistrate's favorite victims of bullying. In the end, he has his left eye gouged out.
- Antonio Orlando – As Tonino. Killed by having his penis burned off.
- Claudio Cicchetti – Confesses to the Bishop about Graziella's photograph, leading to a chain of revealed secrets.
- Franco Merli – Prideful and youthful. Tricked into his position with a promise of sex with an attractive girl. Said to have the most beautiful buttocks. Nearly killed midway through the film, but spared on a promise of a worse future death. He is killed at the end by having his tongue cut off.
- Umberto Chessari – Selected to replace Ezio as Collaborator after Ezio is shot to death.
- Lamberto Book – As Lamberto Gobbi in the film. Refuses to eat like dogs, and is whipped by the Magistrate.
- Gaspare di Jenno – As Rino in the film. A slightly masochistic homosexual and the Duke's favorite. He has sexual feelings for the Duke and is therefore the only victim who is not tortured during his time at the palace. In the end, he is spared death for his good behavior.
- Giuliana Melis – Unlike the book, she is killed.
- Faridah Malik' – As Fatimah in the film. A common victim of both the Duke's sexism and the Magistrate's bullying. In the end, she is scalped.
- Graziella Aniceto – Finds her time at the Palace unbearable and is calmed by Dorit and Eva, the latter of which she betrays. She is left alive at the film's end along with Rino.
- Renata Moar – Forced into the palace just not long after witnessing the death of her mother. She is forced to marry Sergio, before being raped by the President. When she hears that they killed her mother, she begs God for death. The Duke enjoys tormenting her and at one point forces her to consume his feces. She is killed at the end, having burned her breasts.
- Dorit Henke – Beautiful, and rebellious and the most undisciplined in the girls.
- Antiniska Nemour – In love with Eva.
- Benedetta Gaetani – Attempts to run away. As a result, she is quickly murdered.
- Olga Andreis – As Eva in the film. Soft-spoken. Friends with Graziella and a lesbian relationship with Antiniska.