Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/9/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Based on Gaius Petronius' Satyricon, Fellini Satyricon is a surreal film about Nero's reign of the Roman Empire from the perspective of two young men as they would also witness its fall. Directed by Federico Fellini and written with Bernardo Zapponi, the film is an extravagant yet surreal take on Petronius' story with a whole lot of strange imagery and fragmented storytelling. Starring Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born, Capucine, Alain Cuny, and Joseph Wheeler. Fellini Satyricon is a film that emphasizes on what Fellini is all about, style over substance.
Angered by the theft of his slave boy Gitone (Max Born), Encolpio (Martin Potter) tries to find his friend Ascilto (Hiram Keller), who sold Gitone to an actor named Vernacchio (Fanulla). Gitone doesn't seem to mind being the center of attention to Vernacchio's decadent stage play but Encolpio wasn't pleased. After a lot of demands and humiliation, Encolpio gets Gitone back as they return to the seedy streets towards their home where Ascilto makes a deal to get Gitone back on his own. Encolpio is distraught by the loss but has little time to mourn when an earthquake in his home occurs and everything is lost.
Then, he is taken away to another world with a poet Eumolpo (Salvo Randone) who takes him to a world of decadence led by an emperor named Trimalchio (Mario Romagnoli) who thrives on excess and extravagance. After a long party that ends with his own mock funeral, Encolpio and Ascilto are taken away where Encolpio becomes a slave and later wedded to another emperor named Lichas (Alain Cuny). Things at first seems great until the ship they're on is captured by an army as Encolpio and Ascilto run into the home of a couple dead by suicide (Joseph Wheeler & Lucia Bose).
Encolpio makes a sudden discover as he believes that he will be cured by a hermaphrodite creature. The two along with another man capture the creature but the mission ultimately fails as Encolpio is suddenly the center of attention in a prank involving a maze as his own sickness fails him. Seeking to find a cure, he hopes to go to a sorceress for help only to see that he ends up making a sacrifice through this strange world.
Since the story of Satyricon is actually a story filled with fragments, it's no surprise that Fellini approached the film in an unconventional manner. Yet, the result is that the film really has no sense of a plot or a story all together. In fact, it's a fragmented journey of a young man going through the changing times and decadence of Rome. The idea of history and mythology is thrown out of the window for something different. Yet, the result seems to create a detachment of sorts towards the viewer. There's a sense of confusion of what’s going on, what is taking place, and everything. Yet, this is Fellini's intention.
While the direction has some moments in terms of its locations and compositions, it's the script or lack of that kind of fails the film a bit. There's really no sense of consistency nor a central idea of what the film is about. It's really showcasing Rome and its decadence where everything is surreal and the idea of reality is somewhat unbearable. Even through the caricatures and extravagance of Fellini's mind, he really gives an idea of what Rome might be in comparison to what Europe was in the late 1960s. A world of decadence where to someone maybe from that era would understand but to someone who wasn't born in those times might not get it at all.
There's no doubt that the idea of homosexuality and three-way sex is involved and Fellini's intentions are clear in that department. Yet, despite some wonderful scenery and compositions, Fellini ends up making a film that tends to over-stylize itself into a world of pretentiousness that only few might understand.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno brings some wonderful camera work to some of the film's scenery from the hazy look of a desert scene to the eye-wielding look of the ship sequence. Editor Ruggero Mastroianni does create some unique editing to the film's ever-shifting sequence that was Fellini's intention. Unfortunately, it's due to Fellini's direction that the editing suffers a bit in terms of its pacing. Production designer Luigi Scaccianoce and art director Giorgio Giovanni are one of the film's highlights for the production that is created from the ship, Vernacchio's stage, Trimalchio's palace, and every room and set built for the film is just amazing. It's one of the few highlights along with the lavish costumes by Danilo Donati that features various colors with women wearing sheer-like silk. Even the hair stylist by Luciano Vito and makeup by Rino Carboni works to convey the film's decadence.
Longtime collaborator and composer Nino Rota creates a haunting yet percussive-like score that he collaborates with musicians Tod Dockstader, Ilhan Mimaroglu, and Andrew Rudin that plays to the film's sense of fragmentation and style. While not as memorable as other scores Rota made for Fellini, it works to convey the strange atmosphere of what Fellini wanted.
The film's cast for some part is somewhat forgettable since there is a large ensemble that it was hard to keep up with who was playing who. George Eastman is good as a minotaur-wearing warrior, Capucine as an empress named Trifena, Marcello Di Falco as Proconsole the man who helped aid in their kidnaping of the hermaphrodite, and the duo of Joseph Wheeler and Lucia Bose as the suicide couple. Max Born is memorable as the quiet slave Gitone while Alain Cuny is excellent as the greedy emperor Lichas. Salvo Randone and Mario Romagnoli are excellent as the two men who vie for the mind of Encolpio. Fanulla is very memorable as the decadent actor Vernacchio with his love of extravagance and excess. Hiram Keller is good as Encolpio's rival and friend Ascilto who has more charm and good-looks. Martin Potter is great in his role as Encolpio, a desperate man trying to find himself through all of this decadence.
While not up to par with earlier Fellini films like La Strada and La Dolce Vita, Fellini Satyricon is still an interesting films for fans of the director. Those new to the director will rather seek out his earlier films before watching this. It's not a bad film but not a great film either, depending on tastes and conventions. General audiences, understandably, won't understand Fellini's approach. While many will enjoy the extravagance of Fellini, some might feel it's pretentious and dull. Yet, despite some of the indifference towards this film. Fellini Satyricon is still a film that needs to be seen to understand the strange, unique mind of one of international cinema's greats.
Federico Fellini Films: (Variety Lights) - The White Sheik - I, Vitelloni - (L'amore in Citta-unagenzia martimonale) - La Strada - (Il Bidone) - Nights of Cabiria - La Dolce Vita - (Boccaccio '70-Latentazoni del Dottor Antonio) - 8 1/2 - Juliet of the Spirits - Histoires extraordinaires-Toby Dammit - (Fellini: A Director's Notebook) - (I Clowns) - Roma - Amarcord - Casanova - (Orchestra Rehearsal) - (City of Women) - And the Ship Sails On - Ginger and Fred - (Intervista) - (The Voice of the Moon)
© thevoid99 2012