Tag Archives: Italian

Salo or 120 Days of Sodom

23 Oct

A scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom." (Zebra Photofest)

“120 Days of Sodom,” the rapacious weave of sexual excess and debauchery penned by Marquis de Sade in the late 1700s, didn’t receive a commercial publishing until the 20th century, mostly in part because of its perceived depraved pornographic content.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinematic rendering of de Sade’s carnal excursion gone gonzo some 200 years later has often been called the most reviled film of all time, not just because of its stark, graphic nature, but more so for its aloof dehumanized detachment. Still, much like de Sade, with such infamy credited to his name, Pasolini looms a major cultural icon bridging zeitgeists, ideologies and art forms.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” his final work, remains a hot topic of discussion, most recently rekindled after Criterion Collection’s reissue on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, and is also part of the Harvard Film Archive‘s ongoing “Furious and Furiouser” series about maverick filmmaking outside the studio system in the ’70s. The program, inspired by the anti-Hollywood ire of Sam Peckinpah, includes such eclectic and wide ranging works as Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” and even “Saturday Night Fever.”

In a historical context, it’s ironic that “Salò” was Pasolini’s film. The film (and de Sade’s underlying work) pulls heavily from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” most notably the “Circle of S—” and “Circle of Blood” chapters that conclude the work. Leading up to those two fine portrayals of fecal feasting and slow homicidal executions (genital burning, sodomy to expiration, scalping and dismemberment) there’s a succession of bacchanal orgies where those subjugated to the whim of the ruling few, must entertain or provide services of sensual pleasuring, and should they balk or fail, the discipline is swift, cruel and even lethal.

Pasolini, a known homosexual and something of a libertine, didn’t live to see his film’s controversial ripple throughout the world (it was banned in many countries upon its initial release in 1975). He was murdered outside Rome, run over (repeatedly) by his own Alfa Romeo driven by a 17-year-old hustler who claimed Pasolini picked him up and made unwanted sexual advances (even with a confession there remains much conjecture as to the nature of events).

Given grim dithyrambs of debasement in “Salò,” the film’s being is ultimately more eerily prophetic than sadistically ironic. The great director Michelangelo Antonioni (“The Passenger” and “L’Avventura”), a contemporary countryman of Pasolini, remarked that the poet-turned-filmmaker, “was the victim of his own characters.”  Continue reading

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Black Souls

22 May

‘Black Souls’: This dark mob family drama doesn’t go where you expect, unless it’s Italy

The three brothers in “Black Souls” lead very different lives: Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) runs the family goat farm in a remote village in the Italian foothills while Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) run mob operations in Milan. Luciano wants nothing to do with the new initiative and works tirelessly to steer his son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) away from it too. But Leo, who does a little strong-arming on the side himself,  has his sights set on Milan and beyond.

052115i Black SoulsSmall doings carry big ramifications, and quickly Luigi and Rocco, looking to buy influence – 30 keys of coke will do that – and expand, find themselves in the middle of a potential turf war with Leo square in the middle as the agitator between Luigi’s cosmopolitan go-for-broke flair and Rocco’s staid, more conservative approach. It’s easy to see why Leo gravitates toward Luigi’s playboy as opposed to Rocco, who married, has a daughter and, at the root of it all, shares the same conservative sensibilities as Luciano.

As director Francesco Munzi’s weave has it, all parties wind up back at the old family farm, where past meets present and generational sensibilities collide as dark dealings loom at the corners. Much of what transpires feel leaden and reminiscent of “The Godfather” scenes on Italian soil: quiet and purposeful, and steeped in tradition and the unwritten code of the underworld.

There are several junctures where “Black Souls,” for all its somber drive, appears to move in predictable and clichéd directions, but Munzi and his writers – working from Gioacchino Criaco’s novel – smartly never quite go there. The developments add up to something new, unexpected and ominous, though not fully sating. Much of Munzi’s vision hangs on his four principals and on cinematographer Viadan Radovic. Most is asked of Ferracane, whose Luciano becomes the tortured Job of the mountain.

In large, he and the cast all deliver. But Munzi hangs on the emotional residue of a scene far too long, so much so that the magic he and his actors have conjured up begins to settle, and the poignant flourish suddenly becomes stale. There’s no denying Munzi’s hypnotic poetry and simmering macho cadence, but for all its bleakness, “Black Souls” could have been a gangbuster with a touch more soul.