Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1976 Cast: Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini Release Date: October 04, 2011 Rating: Not Rated for wow, just about as bad as anything you can imagine. Worse, probably. Depending on your imagination, I guess. Run Time: 01h:56m:20s Genre(s): foreign
Pasolini's notorious final film, one for whom the audience is likely self-selecting. Criterion's Blu-ray release has it looking as good as possible, and makes as persuasive a case for it being a masterpiece as one can.
Movie Grade: B
DVD Grade: B
Conventional categories of film criticism kind of break down in the face of a movie like this one—I've always been a little uneasy about giving out letter grades to movies and DVDs here at dOc, making it feel like each film is a paper submitted to a middle school teacher, and truly I've never felt stupider giving out grades to a movie than I have to this one. But that's pretty far down the list in responses to Salò, Pier Paolo Pasolini's final film, a relentlessly bleak look at the human condition. On some level, you've got to admire Pasolini's sustained vision in undertaking and executing the picture—but that doesn't mean that it's good, or that you'll want to watch it.
"Notorious" is a word that comes up frequently with this movie—some of that has to do with its very brief previous Criterion incarnation, which was in print for a modest period of time, and soon became the Holy Grail of Criterion completists, fetching prices on eBay that made the first pressing of The 400 Blows seem like so many worn out copies of The Matrix. But that sense of notoriety has been part of Salò since its inception. Pasolini has taken the novel of the same name by Marquis de Sade (for him, see also under "notorious"), and moved the story to Fascist Italy. It's a brutal tale of human degradation, which frankly I don't much care to rehash here—you can't help but think that what so much of Sade's work is about is provocation, and that's certainly on Pasolini's mind. The Marquis wasn't much for character and story, though—not to get too meta, but those really are what's at the heart of movies and why we love them. And it's hard to imagine a movie more difficult to love than this one.
Pasolini's hardcore leftist politics drove this project, to some extent, no doubt; it's a critique not just of what was then the relatively recent past, but also of contemporary Italian society, and we're encouraged to read the film metaphorically. (There may be no other way to read it, actually.) It also has the fire of an angry aging man, and you can't help but wonder if Pasolini didn't want to raise his middle finger to those who talked passionately about the lyricism, the poetic quality, the spirituality of much of his earlier work. You can almost hear him thinking: "So you loved the profound sense of faith in a movie like The Gospel According to St. Matthew? Well, here's a movie with people eating their own excrement. And feeding it to others. How you like me now?"
I will admit to making sure that the kids were asleep before popping this one into the Blu-ray player, that the neighbors weren't prowling, and to hiding the disc and its case from the wife as if it were porn. (It is sort of porn, though not as soulless.) That said, the Blu-ray release is kind of stunning—it's maybe the only movie to eclipse Raging Bull for providing us with exquisite pictures of horrifying things, and the palette and the level of detail in this new transfer are remarkable.
Criterion has tricked out the disc with all sorts of extras, making it the best possible brief for the movie's status as a masterpiece. (It also makes you start to question that as a category, and the general silliness of categories in general.) Fade to Black features prominent fans of the film (like Catherine Breillat and Bernardo Bertolucci) extolling its virtues; you can draw some direct lines from Pasolini's work to theirs. Sal&o;: Yesterday and Today goes over some of the circumstances of production and its reception; there's more of the former in The End of Salò, which includes lots of footage from the set. An accompanying booklet brims with essays about the movie; in truth, it's hard to think of a work of art I'd want to spend time thinking about less than this one. I don't think that makes me cowardly; weak stomached and all, I watched it, though I can't in good conscience necessarily recommend that you do the same, and it's sure not a title for which you're going to want to round up Grandma and the kids.