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In first century Rome, two student friends, Encolpio and Ascilto, argue about ownership of the boy Gitone, divide their belongings and split up. The boy, allowed to choose who he goes with, chooses Ascilto. Only a sudden earthquake saves Encolpio from suicide. We follow Encolpio through a series of adventures, where he is eventually reunited with Ascilto, and which culminates in them helping a man kidnap a hermaphrodite demi-god from a temple. The god dies, and as punishment Encolpio becomes impotent. We then follow them in search of a cure. The film is loosely based on the book Satyricon by Gaius Petronius Arbiter, the "Arbiter of Elegance" in the court of Nero. The book has only survived in fragments, and the film reflects this by being very fragmentary itself, even stopping in mid-sentence. Written by
Steven Pemberton <Steven.Pemberton@cwi.nl>
If one rates a film on visuals alone, Fellini's SATYRICON would surely be completely off the scale: a phantasmagorical mixture of sensual beauty and the distasteful but evocative grotesque set in an ancient Rome that never was, never could have been, and yet which plays up to every extreme concept we secretly harbor about Roman decadence. The leading men are incredibly beautiful; the women are generally seductively depraved; and the broad vision that Fellini offers is easily one of the visually stunning creations ever put to film.
And yet, oddly, the film is sterile. The story is impossible to describe, a series of largely unrelated events in the lives of two impossibly handsome youths (Martin Potter and Hiram Keller) who begin the film by battling over the sexual favors of a slave boy (Max Born) who alternately unites and divides them until all three find themselves sold into slavery and flung from adventure to adventure, most often with sexual (and frequently homosexual) connotations. Clearly, Fellini is making a statement about the triviality and emptiness of a life lived for physical pleasures alone.
But the film is jumpy, disjointed, disconnected; the sequences do not always arise from each other in any consistent way, leaving viewers with a sort of "what the ..." reaction when the film unexpectedly shifts without explanation. (This is actually in keeping with the original ancient text, of which only portions remain.) In consequence, SATYRICON is ultimately less about any philosophical statement Fellini may have had in mind than it is about sheer pictorial splendor and deliberate weirdness.
Whatever its failings, it is an astonishing film, and one that would have tremendous influence on a host of directors who followed in Fellini's wake--although all to often without his style and vision. Clearly Pasolini, director of such works as SALO, ARABIAN NIGHTS, and CANTERBURY TALES spent the better part of his largely unlamented life trying to out-Fellini Fellini; likewise, it is impossible to imagine how Tinto Brass and Bob Guccione arrived at the notorious CALIGULA without reference to Fellini's SATYRICON.
Such efforts to expand on SATYRICON were merely more explicit and less interesting than the original, and I do not really recommend them--nor do I really recommend SATYRICON for any one other than Fellini fans, for with its oddly disjointed feel it is unlikely to please those raised on mainstream. Still, it is a powerful, remarkably beautiful, and completely unexpected film that must be seen at least once by any one with a serious interest in world cinema, and to those I recommend it without hesitation.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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