This film is highly regarded as one of the most controversial of all time. Directed by famous Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, this film takes the infamous work of the Marquis de Sade and places it in Fascist Italy in 1944. Since I am working my way through internet lists of the most disturbing films of all time, I thought this was a good place to take a break and write something.
The Criterion Collection gave this film a beautiful high-definition Blu-ray transfer. Despite the vile nature of the film, the picture has a warm inviting feeling. So while the content will remind you something from the Nazisploitation genre, the film-making quality will make you think you are watching something with a pretty nice budget. I found myself very impressed with the way the settings and establishing shots were filmed. The dichotomy between the disturbing content and beautiful filming technique, if you can’t tell by now, still blows me away days after viewing the film.
My surprise is not only due of the restoration of the film. I am also very impressed by this very talented director. His shots are deliberate and the stories unfold in an effective manner. In a Nazisploitation film, the viewer is really just looking for the next weird thing to happen. In this film, however, you find yourself looking around the scene, admiring picturesque settings and elaborate set designs. So with this being said, the viewer can appreciate as a film that isn’t just produced to create shock value.
Now many people consider this a film that deserves a place in the top three most disturbing films of all time. Some pretty sick bastards that follow me on Twitter and Instagram have said they actually couldn’t finish watching it. These are the same guys that rave about films like American Guinea Pig, August Underground, and A Serbian Film. In the end, what disturbs people is very subjective. I, for instance, can’t handle the Vomit Gore films of Lucifer Valentine. On the other hand, I am not very disturbed by The Guinea Pig Series. On this very blog, I have claimed that A Serbian Film and August Underground’s Mordum are the top two most disturbing to me so far. Even in saying that, I have had plenty of people say that those films shouldn’t even be in the top five. Many of those same detractors said Salo is more disturbing than both. So the debate is a fun one to have. Some films are disturbing in their own way as well. Take Todd Solondz’s film Happiness for example. It is a dark comedy. It has no gore, but is incredibly disturbing for what it is.
So where does this film stand? At this point, I’m not even sure if it makes it into my top ten list of most disturbing films of all time. I’m either a sick bastard or I’ve seen way too many fucked up films, because this is a disgusting film. It has weird cross dressing sex scenes, rape, and some of the most twisted torture techniques put on film. There is also something about the time period in which it take place that makes it even sicker. I don’t think people expect to get extreme shocking cinema from the seventies, in a movie that takes place during World War 2. They probably also don’t want to see a woman as old as their grandmother telling stories of extreme sexual perversion in grotesque detail.
Before viewing this film, I was aware of some of the work of the Marquis de Sade. Therefore, the writing was not that surprising in my eyes. The Marquis de Sade was famous for breaking every literary law and, in a sense, popularizing pornography. His work has also had many shocking film adaptations over the years. Since I had seen many of them, I found myself comparing them to this film. In the end this film was just as predictable as the others, but more artistic. For the fan of the disturbing, the ending is brutal and memorable. For the fan of the strange and surreal, the ending will leave you scratching your head.
Since this is a Criterion collection release, it also comes with hours of bonus interviews and documentaries. I don’t usually watch this stuff right after viewing a movie, but with this one I did. I wanted to know everything I could about the history of the film and get some hints about what the hell that ending was about. Since I bought this film at the Barnes and Noble half-off sale, I think it was worth my purchase. I probably, however, would have found myself pissed off if I spent forty bucks on it at full price.
With that being said, I would give this film a 3 out of 5. I was let down by the hype around it. It had flashes of amazing film-making, but wasn’t as disturbing as it claimed. If you are going to purchase this film, you have to shell out some cash. I just can’t recommend it for purchase unless you are a very specific customer. The collector of Criterion films, Nazisploitation fan, or film historian probably need to own this film. The common viewer, however, will not find it worth their time because it just doesn’t have much re-watch potential in my eyes.
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