The story begins in the mid-1940s with the capture of 16 teen boys and girls who are rounded up and brought to a villa, cohabitated by four middle-aged fascists and their armed boy-toy guards. Their objective is to sexually enslave these young people and use them to explore perverse and often psychotic fetishes. They are occasionally aided by two old whores who regale them with wanton personal stories, detailing childhood sex with old, perverted men.
This film has a real fly-on-the-wall feel, as we never really get to know any of the characters all that much. I guess, based on the director's reasoning behind the movies content, the 'point' was to use the debauchery and sexual dominance as symbolism for the fascist/Marxist movement of the depicted era. Aside from one girl, who keeps weeping for her mother who died trying to rescue her from capture to the point where she's mocked and forced to eat fresh human feces off the floor, many of the other subjects of abuse have bizarrely limited reactions to what's happening to them - some of whom even seem to enjoy their maltreatment from the get-go. For this, I find a strong disconnect with the characters in this movie and every act of cruelty inflicted upon them; as it is just treated as a series of forcibly 'offensive' spectacles that have minimal effect on me, overall. This is where I find the hype over this movie as being so balls-out 'shocking' immensely overstated. There are movies that derive a MUCH more innate reaction than "Salò", though I absolutely believe this film deserves regard for the ornate way it's filmed and for definitely breaking some taboos for the time. I don't see it as a movie that is deeply effective as far as evoking much feeling in the viewer, but quite the opposite. It's one that may very well leave you feeling empty, as that's what the movie seems to capture.