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The Criterion Collection presents
SalÚ: The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

"The bourgeoisie has never hesitated to kill its own children."
- The Duke (Paolo Bonacelli)

Review By: Matt Serafini  
Published: October 06, 2008

Stars: Aldo Valletti, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi
Other Stars: HťlŤne SurgŤre, Sonia Saviange
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for Violence, gore, rape
Run Time: 01h:56m:36s
Release Date: August 26, 2008
UPC: 715515031028
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AAA A+

DVD Review

SalÚ: The 120 Days of Sodom is such a polarizing movie going experience that Iíve prolonged writing this review while letting the film sink into my consciousness again. Thatís a pretty pretentious way to begin, Iíll admit, but this is a tricky one. Not only will its content outrage many people who otherwise pride themselves on collecting every brick of the Criterion Collection, but so much as been written about it that itís a struggle to find something fresh to say.

So allow me to begin with a story about how I first came to this film. It was ten years ago and DVD was in its infancy. Determined to be in on the ground floor of this digital revolution, I had just snagged a DVD player and was ready to collect. Horror was all over this new and wonderful format and I had to keep up. Enter Joe, my best friend in horror. We were lifelong horror film freaks, anxiously snapping up every taboo title that became available. Unsurprisingly, Joe picked up Criterionís first release of SalÚ after someone recommended it as the ultimate gross out. The recommendation was spot on. I watched it a few days after Joe and was every bit was repulsed and unsettled. And I didnít think much more of it then. I'd finally seen the infamous SalÚ. It was gross and uncomfortable, but I was ready to check it off the list and move onto the next film.

Of course the DVD went out of print and everyone suddenly wanted to own it. I even imported the BFI release from overseas just to grab a copy. It was years before I felt like stomaching it again, but once I finally worked up enough nerve to take it for a spin, I found myself as revolted by this exploitation experience as before. Then, almost simultaneously, SalÚ showed up on the big screen in Boston. Joe and I felt obligated to trek out there to see how Pasoliniís most vicious effort would play out on the big screen.

And Iíll never forget the crowd: middle aged couples lined the rows. Certainly not horror fans. SalÚ, come to find out, was the final film in a Pasolini film festival that had been playing all week. Us two, in horror t shirts, slumped into two seats up front, resisting the urge to snack on candy or popcorn. With SalÚ, if you donít eat that stuff within the first fifteen minutes, youíre not going to eat it at all, as it doesnít take long for the atrocities to begin.

The audience took the film in stride. No one made a peep for the two hour duration and once it was done, people shuffled towards the exits like they were part of a funeral procession. And it wasnít until this third viewing (my final before sitting down with this brand new DVD release) that I begun to notice the cracks of brilliance breaking through the disgusting shell that easily dwarfs the deeper meaning. I had taken three regrettable trips to SalÚ and finally realized that it was more than just another '70s horror/exploitation flick. Ironic, considering thatís the only reason I wanted to watch it in the first place.

But thereís a point to my long-winded introduction: here is a film that will stay with you. Not simply for a few hours or days, but years. For better or worse, you canít un-see this sucker. Hell, I didnít even really like it the first two times I sat through it and yet I had to see it again. There are things within Pasolini's film that stick out and make you think, but it's often easy to look past them t the nonstop barrage of torture and humiliation on display. In that respect you can't mine everything out of SalÚ on a first viewing. It's simply too overwhelming.

SalÚ is the name of an Italian Republic, the site of Mussoliniís established puppet government (if only my Italian History professor realized that her lectures help enhance my understanding of this film!) in World War II. We open in the closing days of the war, where Allied advancement into SalÚ is just around the corner. Rather than flee, the collective leaders (Duke, Magistrate, President, and Bishop) retreat to a secluded villa with eighteen young men and women, where their only aim is to subject them to only the most extreme degradation and torture imaginable.

Of all the discussions Iíve had about SalÚ over the years, one recurring point arises time and time again: why do the captors accept their fates with such complacency? Itís a valid reaction after sitting through two hours of abject cruelty, and arguably the most disturbing element of the film. Eventually the most profane bits of sodomy and mutilation can wear on the viewer, but when one considers that the nine men and nine women are essentially working class society, Pasoliniís film takes on an entirely richer meaning. They accept their fates because they have to. Thereís no chance of combating the church, the law, and the leadership. In SalÚ, the Fascist government isnít worried about consequences. They see their victims as nothing more than objects. They indulge themselves while Rome burns.

Thereís a pretty healthy movement of people out there adamant in their belief that SalÚ is a film that shouldnít exist. That itís far too repugnant to be excused. Itís a knee-jerk reaction, though. I mean, I was greatly upset when walking out of Titanic (a film I found much more insulting than SalÚ), but Iíve never once claimed it shouldnít exist. But seriously, few films have the gusto to be this bleak. And itís not for nothing, either. People become objects and are discarded as thoughtlessly as an old pair of shoes. People are punished for exhibiting passion in situations of duress. Donít even get me started on the segment entitled "The Circle of Shit." Surely you can figure it out from there. I know this isnít exactly a ringing endorsement but, again, SalÚ stays with you. And if you can stomach it, it grows on you, too.

As a horror fan, Iíve seen worse as far as violence goes. But itís not all about the violence. Itís the grim nature of the piece that gets to me more than anything else. It has nothing good to say about humanity, and decency is non-existent in SalÚ. Itís a bold piece of filmmaking, well worth seeing for anyone whoís willing to stomach it. Thatís not always an easy thing to do, but there is power here. A great film not easily forgotten and Iím not sure thereís a more disturbing one out there.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: SalÚ hits Criterion DVD for a second time, and what an improvement! Presented in an absolutely pristine 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, the image is an absolute revelation. You'll be wallowing in every detail, from the deceptively quaint opening establishing shots of SalÚ's countryside to the film's most unsavory bits and climactic bloodbath. Colors are sharp and contrasting without being over the top, illustrating Pasolini's eye for interesting compositions. If I had to nitpick, it would be in regard to the source print: it shows its age in a few minor instances with fleeting scratches and blemishes. I don't want to dwell on this, though, as this is an overall satisfying experience, and I can't stress that enough. If you like this film, you're going to want to get a gander at this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: You've got your choice of two mono tracks on this release: Italian audio with English subtitles or an English dub. The dub isn't quite as obvious or distracting as I was expecting, but I only jumped around and watched select pieces of it. I much preferred the Italian audio as it simply sounds more natural. Ultimately, whichever way you choose to listen to SalÚ should result in a satisfying experience. Audio and sound effects are channeled through your center speaker with the utmost clarity, offering a truly dynamic mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Italian, English
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 80 page booklet packed with film essays as well as pieces from Gideon Bachman's on-set diary.
  2. Interview with production designer Dante Ferretti (11 minutes)
  3. Interview with director/scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin (27 mintues)
Extras Review: More than I could've asked for: Criterion's second stab at releasing this film on DVD puts that long sought-after, decade-old release to shame. Not only does it look and sound immaculate, but they've packed a second disc full of extra material that may even pique the curiosity of its biggest detractors.

SalÚ: Yesterday and Today is a 33-minute documentary featuring interviews with director Pier Paolo Pasolini, actor-filmmaker Jean-Claude Biette, and Pasolini friend Nineto Davoli. It's a great watch, opening with archival footage of Pasolini on set and directing the film. We get to see the director discuss and defend this controversial film and some of his boldest decisions. This documentary strips away just enough of the film's mystique to reveal that Pasolini crafted SalÚ with a specific purpose in mind that went well beyond a simple exploitation film.

Fade to Black is a 23-minute documentary featuring directors Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, and John Maybury, as well as scholar David Forgacs. This is a very compelling discussion of SalÚthrough the eyes of several other filmmakers, as it's great to see how Pasolini's peers regard his most controversial work. They all bring different perspectives to the table and the end result actually makes me want to revisit this title again in the very near future. Again, even if you hated the film, this stuff is so meaty that I can't imagine skipping it.

The End of SalÚ is a 40-minute documentary about the filmís production. Some of the actors are showcased where they offer up recollections of filming (including some insight into that wonderful, 'Circle of Shit' section). Filmmaker Pupi Avati is on hand to discuss how he came to get Pasolini interested in making the film, and how it came about that his own name would be take off the final product. My only complaint here stems from an attempt to recreate the film's 'lost' ending by having a bunch of actors read the script aloud over stills. There isn't enough context given and the scene was halfway over before I realized what they were doing. A great idea with muddled execution.

Interviews with set designer Dante Ferretti and director and film scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin are in-depth and cover an array of Pasolini-related material.

As is often the case with Criterion releases, my favorite extra is the physical material. This disc is packaged with an 80 Page booklet which is absolutely packed with essays surroundingSalÚ. Let's face it folks, if you like this film, you're going to be an expert by the time you're done sifting through all of this material. The essays are largely academic, but never dull. The book also features excerpts from Gideon Bachman's on-set diary that reveals SalÚ to have been a far more friendly shoot than expected. Bachman describes a dedicated (if occasionally skeptical) cast and crew working on a project helmed by an enthusiastic and passionate filmmaker. I love when DVD releases take the time to include such thoughful material and Criterion is always a great sport.

The trailer is located on the first disc, and rounds out the supplements.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Thank you Criterion! A near-perfect release in every regard, this will surely rank as one of the best DVD releases of the year. Some people can gripe about the cost of Criterion discs, but this is a real class act in terms of quality, presentation, and content. Believe me, it's well worth the price. Pasolini's final film is a grueling experience, so proceed with caution. Take the trip to SalÚ. Then take a shower right after.

 


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