Friday, November 05, 2004

The 8150 Days of Me

I remember this rather dull night, at the peak of north Indian winter, some six years back. I had been trying to solve a particularly tricky problem of mechanics from Irodov for nearly four hours. The solution was quite elusive and required a very subtle trick which my tired mind was unable to comprehend. So I kept the problem aside and decided to approach it with a fresh mind the next morning. I was also distracted because of this particular book I had acquired a couple of days before that – The 120 Day of Sodom (or the School of Freedoms or the School of Libertines) by Marquis de Sade. The book tells the story of a bunch of old men who enslave a group of teenagers and perform various sexual perversions on them and eventually kill them. All this is done while listening to stories told by old prostitutes.

Bored with my physics problems and unable to sleep I decided to read this book. Back then I had this principle of not leaving a novel unfinished and so I read this gruesome book throughout the night. When I finished reading, in the early hours of the morning, my mind had gone numb and an all pervading feeling of disgust settled over me. I didn’t eat anything the whole day because of fear of remembering the details of the coprophilia described in the book.

Fast forward to the present – I finished seeing Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom based on original text by Sade but set in the Fascist Republic of Salo in 1944. Here is how the film is described on the back cover of the DVD I viewed (released by the British Film Institute):

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its first release in 1975, Salò has rarely been shown in its complete form in Britain and did not receive BBFVC certification until late 2000, when it was passed uncut. In 1994 its US video release prompted the prosecution of a bookshop, and in Australia the ban on Salò was lifted in 1993, only to be reinstated in 1998 after questions were raised in their national parliament.

The film Salò is based on the Marquis de Sade's novel 120 Days of Sodom, with the setting transposed to an empty Lake Garda mansion in Mussolini's miniature Fascist Republic of Salò, Italy in 1944. Four wealthy and powerful libertines gather in a palazzo to organise a gluttonous, theatrical series of sexual tortures to be inflicted upon a terrified collection of subjugated young men and women.

The film's content and imagery is extreme, and it retains the power to shock, repel and distress a quarter of a century on. Pasolini was murdered shortly before the film's release, when a casual sex encounter on a beach outside Rome went tragically wrong. The reaction to the murder ensured that the public perception of Salò was tainted by the score-settling indulged in by his enemies on both the Left and the Right. Yet it remains a cinematic milestone - culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning. The DVD release features a poster gallery, an on-screen director's biography and a director's foreword read by actor Nickolas Grace.

The film was even more gruesome and graphic in its presentation of violence then the way I had visualized it after reading the book. Nothing shocks me these days, but this movie was like a thunderbolt, waking me from a reverie like nothing else has ever done. Why did Pasolini make this movie? More importantly how did he accomplish the task of making such a harrowing movie?

As disgusted and revolted as I am after having seen the contents of the movie, there is still only one word which I can use to describe the movie – beautiful. It is sheer genius – the light work gives a very surreal detached feeling, colours are used brilliantly and direction – the best I have ever seen. I highly recommend the movie to every film aficionado, but don’t watch the movie on a full stomach and if you can’t take the violence – stop immediately. The weak of heart should not watch this film.

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