• It seems clear that there are three ways to read Pasolini’s film.
  • First—just the content and sort of description of what happens– this description from IMDB sums it up “In World War II Italy, four fascist libertines round up nine adolescent boys and girls and subject them to one hundred and twenty days of physical, mental and sexual torture”.  This film is very controversial and for good reason. The content is hard to watch. Whether you admire the film or not, I don’t see how anyone could argue with the depths of evil depicted here and this should act as a warning for many—as many people will not want to watch the film, and many who start may be unable to finish (apparently Ebert never saw it, he was a big admirer of Teorema from Pasolini and had a copy of this film but from what I read he never did end up watching it).
  • The second reading is speaking as to why Pasolini is doing this. Pasolini made angry films, middle-finger cinema as I call it, and he is not alone (von Trier, Bunuel)— he’s using a hammer to drive home a point about evils in this world. These four villains in the film are what he hates most- and hate is important to Pasolini– and he makes them do the worst things imaginable in this film—and he doesn’t pull any punches.
  • Lastly, the film’s visual magnificence and formal aplomb seem like something that cannot be debated either. Look at the page here- 12 shots, most of these held for a long time. There are easily another 20-40 of these shots throughout the film (some of them available as screengrabs but the nudity or content just isn’t something, I want to share here).  It is a breathtakingly beautiful film- indisputable.

undoubtedly one of the most handsome, painterly films ever made

  • This is Pasolini’s last film- it was supposed to be the first in a three-part series (trilogy of death)- he was murdered weeks before the premiere. Pasolini had his debut in 1961 Accattone– one of his strongest efforts, and Teorema is a strong candidate, but with the astonishing artistry on display in Salo– it is clearly his magnum opus. If there’s doubt, it is because many of his films are still not easily available (I was able to get to six of his films here during my 2019/2020 study)
  • There are many admirers of the film (it has a lofty ranking on TSPDT) including Fassbinder, Haneke, Gaspar Noé—sort of makes sense—these are accomplished filmmakers- often vicious filmmakers—as I said I don’t know for sure but I would have to guess Bunuel and von Trier were admirers as well
  • Rigorously set-up four sections with titles– Antinferno (antechamber of hell) is the gathering of these children, then the three “circle of” sections mirroring Dante’s Inferno and the chambers of Hell

such formal cohesiveness- variations on this shot in the mirror done again and again–

almost every arrangement has a double– every point a counterpoint

  • Morricone’s mockingly jazzy score and dissolve transitions early in the film
  • Like say Eisenstein’s Strike– Pasolini uses casting here to make his four villains (these four make Hans Landa or Edvard the stepfather in Fanny and Alexander look appealing by comparison) as irreputable as possible (Aldo Valletti with his crossed eyes)—“his excellency” “my lord”- we have the Duke, The Bishop, The Magistrate and The President—all bourgeois in suits—Pasolini wants the purest version of evil.

Pasolini wants the purest version of evil– making just about every other version of evil portrayed on screen look modest by comparison

the gorgeous wallpaper here used for the piano player’s big scene

repeated shots of characters in profile looking out the window in jaw-droppingly splendid interior-designed arrangements

  • Throughout the film the compositions are immaculate. These wideshots of the rooms are like a series of paintings (Roy Andersson comes to mind a little). The salon room (I think it is also called the “orgy room”) is just about as handsomely mounted a frame as is conceivable. The symmetry, (at the 24-minute mark is a good example), the coloring (often slate- and Pasolini matches the wardrobe to the lighting fixtures to the drapes to the carpet)— it is presented in wideshots and it is Greenaway meets Wes Anderson meets Jodorowsky and The Holy Mountain (the only one of these references that predates the film)

the symmetry, the lighting– tableau paintings in wideshot

the salon room again and again– there are easily 30-50 of these arrangements– it is Greenaway, Wes Anderson, The Holy Mountain— Pasolini even seems very concerned with numbering like Greenaway

career-best work from most of the talented crew behind the camera Pasolini assembled– these are the artists who also worked with Leone, Fellini, Scorsese

  • Salo is an angry parable – Pasolini takes the French novel by Marquis de Sade in 1785, uproots it and sets it in fascist Italy (town of Salo) in 1944. Salo is where Mussolini held is capital. Pasolini’s brother died there.

essentially two hours with this compositions

this film is simply not for everyone– these are essentially my notes on the film made public but you should read up sufficiently on the film and prepare yourself before deciding to watch

Reoccurring wideshots of the Da Vinci’s first supper-like shot here- Pasolini did this in 1962’s Mamma Roma

  • The crew assembled here by Pasolini has to be recognized and lauded—I mentioned Morricone already (I wouldn’t consider this one of his best—which is no insult), but the cinematography and set decoration is exemplary- from Osvaldo Desideri (set decoration) and Tonino Delli Colli (DP)—this film clearly impressed Leone as he used both on Once Upon a Time in America. The production design is by Dante Ferretti – who is a three-time Academy Award winner and worked on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Age of Innocence, Titus, Casino—the costume work is genius- done by Danilo Donati (Romeo and Juliet- 1968, Amarcord, Flash Gordon, Fellini Satyricon). This is the best work or tied for the best for all involved aside from Morricone.
  • The way Pasolini tells the story is very methodical—there are the titles, the horrific storytelling by the older women with the piano playing in the salon—and then there is the carrying out of the torture– some of it I can’t even type out (with Pasolini daring you to look away, holding your face in it – blunt force)
  • The wallpaper use is sublime throughout but in particular the wild wallpaper used when the pianist jumps out of the window
  • Pasolini uses doorways like Visconti or Ozu here—frames within frames

doorways as a frame within a frame again and again- one wonders if this work inspired Pawlikowski for Ida


  • A Masterpiece