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1969’s Satyricon is a bizarre fantasy drama from Italian auteur Federico Fellini, the writer and director of some of Italy’s greatest movies. But his adaptation the fragmented text by Petronius is a movie that only the most hardcore of art-house fans could like.
Set during the height of Nero’s reign of the Roman Empire, Satyricon follows Encolpio (Martin Potter), a young man who goes from journeying across the empire and living a life of opulence, only to be captured by pirates and ends up exploring a wasteland where he finds gods and witches.
Satyricon is a movie with a very loose narrative; an exercise in experimental filmmaking. Fellini aimed to make a movie to disorientate the audience and he does it too successfully, with its disjointed storytelling and thin narrative. It is a movie that skips ahead in time without any transition or segway. It just jumps to events, such as a scene where Encolpio and his cohorts are going to a banquet, then suddenly we see them being held prisoner. Then we see a landlord freeing his slaves before committing suicide, Encolpio kidnapping a hermaphrodite, and so forth. It continues on like this, as more of a series of disjointed events than a plot, story or a thematic through-line. The editing just jumps ahead and prevents a proper flow for the film.
Fellini succeeds in making a surreal, dreamlike movie, starting with Encolpio and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) both performing soliloquies as Encolpio is angered by Ascilto for selling a slave/lover. As the movie progresses, it becomes more of a dreamy fantasy when Encolpio enters the wilderness, coming across a pale skinned hermaphrodite child demi-god, or when Encolpio fights a Minotaur and when he finds a woman with the ability to queef fire.
Fellini does also set up a world of excess and hedonism, with sexual debauchery and suffering at every presence in some form. Encolpio sees it from both sides, enjoying the pleasures of a Roman brothel and an aristocratic banquet to seeing from the point of view of a slave, to seeing it from a distance. It is a world of ceremonies, people from all walks of having some sort of event, like funerals to gladiatorial contests with violence normally having a role of some sort, even in a play at the beginning of the movie.
Satyricon is a grand looking movie, having large scale sets and sequences. It is impressive with its art direction and succeeds at taking us to an amoral world. Some highlights include showing the sexual activities within a massive brothel and an impressive earthquake sequence afterwards and the banquet.
Satyricon is really more of an experimental art piece than a movie, being more a series of events than a complete story. It is thematic about nihilism and hedonism and looks impressive, but it is a movie that only a very specific audience could enjoy.
Special Features: Satyricon is light on special features, coming with an English dub of the movie, the theatrical trailer and a 48 page booklet with an essay from Pasquale Iannone, film lecturer from the University of Edinburgh.