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 film written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, with uncredited writing contributions by Pupi Avati.[2][3] 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. 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 is currently banned outright in Malaysia due to "repulsive, outrageous and abhorrent content" (extremely high impact violence, offensive depictions of cruelty and other content that is repelling and abhorrent). The film was then banned in Singapore due to its "extreme content that may cause controversy in Singapore". The film is banned outright in several other countries as well, including Sri Lanka, Iran, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupted 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[4] and is the subject of an article in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986).[5]

In 2012, Sight and Sound placed the film on their critics Top 250 Films of All Time list.[6]


The story is set in the Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy in 1944. Four men of power, the Duke (Duc de Blangis), the Bishop, the Magistrate (Curval), and the President (apparently Durcet), agree to marry each other's daughters as the first step in a debauched ritual. With the aid of several collaborating young men, they kidnap eighteen young men and women (nine of each sex), and take them to a palace near Salò. Accompanying them are four middle-aged prostitutes, also collaborators, whose function will be to recount erotically arousing stories for the men of power, who, in turn, will 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 examining them. The Circle of Manias presents some of the stories in the first part of Sade's book, told by Signora Vaccari (Hélène Surgère). In the Circle of Shit, the passions escalate in intensity from mainly non-penetrative sex to coprophagia. One scene shows a girl (Renata Moar) forced to eat the feces of the Duke (Paolo Bonacelli); later, the other victims are presented a giant meal of human feces. The Circle of Blood starts with a black mass-like wedding between the guards and the men of power, after which the Bishop is sodomized by his assistant. The Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi) then leaves to examine the captives in their rooms, where they start systematically betraying each other: one girl is revealed to be hiding a photograph, two girls are shown to be having a secret sexual affair, and finally, a collaborator (Ezio Manni) and the black servant (Ines Pellegrini) are shot down after being found having sex. Toward the end, the remaining victims are murdered through methods like scalping, branding, and having their tongues and eyes cut out, as each libertine takes his turn to watch as voyeur.

The film's final shot is of two young soldiers, who had witnessed and collaborated in all of the prior atrocities, dancing a simple waltz together.


  • Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke
  • Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop
  • Umberto P. Quintavalle as The Magistrate
  • Aldo Valletti as The President
  • Caterina Boratto as Signora Catelli
  • Elsa De Giorgi as Signora Maggi
  • Hélène Surgère as Signora Vaccari
  • Sonia Saviange as The Pianist
  • Ezio Manni as Collaborator
  • Inès Pellegrini as The Slave Girl
Male victims
  • Sergio Fascetti
  • Bruno Musso
  • Antonio Orlando
  • Claudio Cicchetti
  • Franco Merli
  • Umberto Chessari
  • Lamberto Book
  • Gaspare di Jenno
Female victims
  • Giuliana Melis
  • Faridah Malik
  • Graziella Aniceto
  • Renata Moar
  • Dorit Henke
  • Antinisca Nemour
  • Benedetta Gaetani
  • Olga Andreis


Salò transposes the setting of the Marquis de Sade's book from 18th-century France to the last days of Benito Mussolini's regime in the Republic of Salò. Salò, a nickname for the Italian Social Republic (RSI) (because Mussolini ruled from this northern town rather than from Rome), which was a puppet state of Nazi Germany. The Nazis had used the opportunity to round up the many Jews living in that part of Italy and sent them off to extermination camps; heretofore, many Italian officials had refused to implement the "Final Solution."[7]



Salò has been banned in several countries, because of its graphic portrayals of rape, torture, and murder — mainly of people thought to be younger than eighteen years of age. The film remains banned in several countries to this day.

Salò was rejected by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) in January 1976. It was first screened at the Old Compton Street cinema club in Soho, London in 1977, in an uncut form and without certification from BBFC secretary James Ferman; the premises were raided by the Metropolitan Police after a few days. A cut version prepared under Ferman's supervision, again without formal certification, was subsequently screened under cinema club conditions for some years. In 2000, in an uncut form, the film was finally passed for theatrical and video distribution in the United Kingdom.[8]

In 1994, an undercover policeman in Cincinnati, Ohio rented the film from a local gay bookstore, and then arrested the owners for "pandering." A large group of artists, including Martin Scorsese and Alec Baldwin, and scholars signed a legal brief arguing the film's artistic merit; the Court dismissed the case because the police violated the owners' Fourth Amendment rights, without reaching the question of whether the film was obscene.[9]

It was banned in Australia in 1976, then made briefly legal in 1993, until its re-banning in 1998. Salò was resubmitted for classification in Australia in 2008, only to be rejected once again.[10] The DVD print was apparently a modified version, causing outrage in the media over censorship and freedom of speech. In 2010, the film was submitted again, and passed once again with an R 18+ rating. According to the Australian Classification Board media release, the DVD was passed due to "the inclusion of 176 minutes of additional material which provided a context to the feature film." However the media release also stated that "The Classification Board wishes to emphasise that this film is classified R 18+ based on the fact that it contains additional material. Screening this film in a cinema without the additional material would constitute a breach of classification laws."[11] The majority opinion of the board stated that the inclusion of additional material on the DVD "facilitates wider consideration of the context of the film which results in the impact being no more than high."[12] This decision came under attack by Family Voice Australia (formerly the Festival of Light Australia), the Australian Christian Lobby and Liberal Party of Australia Senator Julian McGauran,[13][dead link] who tried to have the lifted ban overturned, but the Board refused, stating "The film has aged plus there is bonus material that clearly shows it is fiction."[14][15] The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 8, 2010.[16][17]

In New Zealand the film was originally banned in 1976. The ban was upheld in 1993. In 1997, special permission was granted for the film to be screened uncut at a film festival. In 2001, the DVD was finally passed uncut with an 'R18' rating.[18]

Documentaries about the film

An exhibition of photographs by Fabian Cevallos depicting scenes which were edited out of the film was displayed in 2005, in Rome. Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Bertolucci released a documentary in 2006, Pasolini prossimo nostro, based on an interview with Pasolini done on the set of Salò in 1975. The documentary also included photographs taken on the set of the film. The film is also the subject of a 2001 documentary written and directed by Mark Kermode.


The film is considered a masterpiece by some artists. Acclaimed director Michael Haneke named the film his fourth favorite film when he voted for the 2002 Sight and Sound poll; director Catherine Breillat and film critic Joel David also voted for the film.[19] A 2000 poll of critics conducted by The Village Voice named it the 89th greatest film of the 20th century.[20] In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Salò the 65th scariest film ever made.[4] In 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival placed it at #47 on its list of The Essential 100 films.[21]


Several versions of the film exist. Salò originally ran 145 minutes, but director Pasolini himself removed 25 minutes for story pace. The longest available version is the DVD published by the British Film Institute (BFI), containing a short scene usually deleted from other prints, in which, during the first wedding, one of the masters quotes a Gottfried Benn poem. This version of the film is featured both on the original 2001 DVD release and the remastered 2008 DVD as well as Blu-ray. Since the remastered version was sourced from the original negative, which does not include the poetry reading, the additional footage was sourced from a 35 mm print of the film held by the BFI National Archive. A note in the DVD booklet explains that this leads to a slight shift in picture quality. Aside from the high-definition transfer, the 2008 BFI releases are identical - the apparent five-minute difference in running time is explained by the Blu-ray running at the theatrical speed of 24 frames per second, while the DVD has been transferred at the slightly faster PAL video rate of 25 frames per second.

In the U.S., Salò suffered intermittent legal troubles. The Criterion Collection laserdisc and DVD editions were released for North America; however, the DVD was quickly withdrawn because of licensing conflicts with Pasolini's estate. As a result, Criterion's 1998 DVD release of the film created much collector's interest. Moreover, its rarity inspired bootleg copies sold as original pressings. The quality of the genuine Salò DVD is inferior by contemporary standards; most notably, the image has a green tinge. Criterion has since reissued the film in a completely remastered two-disc edition, albeit with the same spine number (17) as the original pressing.

Besides the BFI edition with the often missing poetry-quotation scene, there exists a French DVD version, distributed by Gaumont Columbia Tristar Home Video, containing a transfer that is a restored, high-definition, colour-corrected version of the film (superior to the original Criterion and BFI editions), however, it has no English subtitles, as it is a French product for French cinephiles.

The Hawaii film company HK Flix released an NTSC-format of Salò through distributor Euro Cult in 2007. It reportedly contains the uncut Criterion Collection release — yet of better quality. The HK Flix edition is a version of the BFI's Salò DVD, complete with a factory imperfection at the film's 01:47:19 mark; however, its quality is unequal to that of the Gaumont DVD, and, still, it is missing a scene. The DVD cover is a sketch of Pasolini in sunglasses; Paolo Bonacelli's name is printed beside it. Moreover, despite accusations of boot-legging, Euro Cult asserts their legal entitlement to distribute the Salò DVD in the U.S.

In its online blog, On Five,[22] the Criterion company said, in November 2006, that they re-acquired the distribution rights for Salò. In May 2008, Criterion released the cover art of the reissue DVD, slated for release in August 2008, comprising two discs: (I) the film (with an optional dubbed-English track) and (II) three documentaries and new interviews.[23]

In August 2008, the BFI announced a new release of Salò on both high-definition Blu-ray and standard-definition DVD, claiming it to be "fully uncut and in its most complete version," and that "the film has been re-mastered from the original Italian restoration negatives" and would be accompanied by a second disc containing extensive additional features.[24] The BFI re-issue does indeed contain the missing 25 second poem intact, but according to Criterion's website this sequence is not an official part of the film, because the footage is not present in the interpositive that the camera negative was struck from (which formed the basis of their transfer).[25]

The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray on October 4, 2011.


  1. SALO, O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (18). British Board of Film Classification (2000-11-16). Retrieved on 2012-12-31.
  2. C I N E B E A T S :: Pupi Avati. Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  3. DVD Savant Review: The House with Laughing Windows. Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Chicago Film Critics Association (October 2006). Top 100 Scariest Movies. Filmspotting. Retrieved on February 21, 2009.[dead link] (archive)
  5. "Salò – The 120 Days of Sodom" by Ramsey Campbell, Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, ed. Jack Sullivan, p.368.
  7. Wasserstein, Bernard, "The Darkest Hour," in "The Illustrated History of the Jewish People" by Nicholas de Lange (editor), NY:Harcourt Brace (1997), pp. 276
  8. This paragraph draws heavily on the article "Case Study: Salo on the Students' British Board of Film Classification website.
  9. ACLU Arts Censorship Project Newsletter. Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  10. Browne, Rachel (July 20, 2008). Sadistic sex movie ban 'attacks art expression'. Brisbane Times. Retrieved on February 21, 2009.
  12. Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo cleared for DVD release The Australian, May 6, 2010
  13. "Sex Torture Film Cleared" The Australian: 15.05.2010:,26992127-15803,00.html
  14. Lane, Terry (March 1, 1998). "Salo is re-banned (in Australia)". The Sunday Age ( Retrieved February 21, 2009. 
  15. Salo - 120 Days of Sodom |
  16. Salo DVD at JB Hi-Fi Online. Retrieved on September 18, 2010.
  17. Salo Blu-ray at JB Hi-Fi Online. Retrieved on September 18, 2010.
  18. New Zealand Office of Film & Literature Classification: Censorship Database
  19. Sight & Sound | Top Ten Poll 2002 - Who voted for which film. BFI (December 8, 2008). Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  20. 100 Best Films of the 20th Century by the Village Voice Critics' Poll. Retrieved on February 21, 2009.
  21. TIFF Essential 100, Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
  22. On Five
  23. CRITERION COLLECTION Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom DVD. Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  24. BFI Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Blu-ray and DVD. Retrieved on February 24, 2009.
  25. Because You Can Never Have Enough.

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