Sunday, 29 May 2011

Now I Shall Have To Recover From That Disgusting Sight.

After so long in the wilderness (has it really been that long?) I thought I would start with something light.

Firstly, some history. After living it up in Berlin for a few months at the end of last year, I returned to London for a couple of weeks and then flew back here to my homeland, just in time for summer to really kick in. Summer was mostly spent hanging around on beaches and catching up with friends before I started work in late January. Since I got home, I've probably managed twenty or thirty films, but I haven't kept a record, and I don't really want to go back to all of those that I never got around to writing about last year because they are now so far in the past. Maybe I'll just list them. Yes, that's what I'll do.

Thirst 3.5*
Bent 2.5*
Boy A 5*
Mary & Max -unrated
That's not even all of them. I didn't write all those I watched in Berlin down. And then there are those I watched here. Oh well. Those star ratings are things I've just come up with now. Preseumably they're at least partially accurate.

And on to today's film.

Thursday, I was at home and my housemates were out. One of them was staying in the city, the other I wasn't expecting home until about ten, so I put Saló, or the 120 days of Sodom on in the main room (I normally watch them in my little space out the back) figuring that it would be pretty much done before he got home. 45 minutes in he came home right as a whole bunch of naked boys are running down the stairs - I had to convince him I wasn't watching kiddie porn. He then said 'oh, that's the one that was banned, right? The one with the shit-eating and skull-fucking.' I then thought it wasn't something I necessarily wanted to put myself to sleep with that night and put it on hold.

Last night I braved it. Yes, there is shit-eating. No, from what I saw, there isn't skull-fucking.

It's an interesting film, that's for sure. Based in part on the writings of Dante and the Marquis de Sade, it centres around four men of power, who, in the final days of Mussolini's fascist Italy, take nine boys and nine girls to a mansion in the country, accompanied by a number of male collaborators with guns and a few older female prostitutes. The prostitutes recount stories from their lives, incidents that happened to them generally at a young age, and then the men of power with the help of the collaborators act out ever more obscene, grotesque, demeaning and violent acts for their sexual gratification.

It's all about power. A not-so-subtle metaphor for fascism. Writer/director Pier Paolo Pasolini has said that the shit-eating relates to his hatred of mass-produced food. These things are not hard to see, if you're so inclined, between the lines of attractive young men and women being beaten, whipped, sodomised and walked on leads.
But the film is horrifying. In the 'scary' sense, not the 'terrible' sense. Some parts are almost erotic, towards the beginning, when you can still hold out a little hope of salvation, but as the film goes on it becomes more and more debauched, leading to the finale where each of the men of power take it in turns to play voyeur as the boys and girls are killed in horrible and brutal ways.

I appreciate the metaphor, I really do. I truly appreciate the bravery of Pasolini in crafting a film such as this, a film that has been broadly denounced as pornography over the years, but is anything but. (Similar, in that sense, to Shortbus, though definitely with the latter's overall upbeat feeling...) But I do wonder whether it began to be shock for shock's sake. Whether these themes and ideas couldn't have been expressed with a little more delicacy.

Though, I'm in two minds about that. Part of me thinks it wouldn't have been so shocking and controversial, and wonders if that wasn't part of the point. Another part of me thinks 'to hell with it!' Why shouldn't it be shocking and confrontational? I mean, the fetishes so brutally portrayed do exist, and there are people out there who willingly subject themselves to such degradation in the name of pleasure. (And by calling it degradation, am I selling short their own consent?) It's not exploitative if all were of age, and there's no way the themes and ultimate outcome of the film could have been hidden from any of the cast members. The notoriety attached to the film guarantees that all going into it know what they have coming. (Family First be damned! The warnings are there, let the consenting adults choose for themselves. This doesn't inspire me to go out, kidnap some teenagers and make them eat my shit!)

As a whole, I'm more inclined to think of the film as an intriguing exercise in delving into sexual mores and how they can represent a sick society, in this case those pesky fascists of the second world war. And as a trailblazer for anti-censorship and pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, and what consenting adults have the right to choose between. As a whole, maybe if I were a little more familiar with the source material, or had I been better connected to a similar regime, then maybe the ideas would have resonated with me. But as it stands, I'm just going to go with it being ok. Interesting? Yes. Confronting? Hells yeah. Brilliant? Possibly, but I'm not entirely sold. (And why does it not surprise me that it is Haneke's fourth favourite film?)

2.5 stars.