Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Fellini Satyricon

Emerging as Fellini’s most visual and perhaps strangest film, Fellini Satyricon is an adaptation of (supposedly) Petronius’ work. The film centres on the  hedonistic society of pre-Christian Rome. La Dolce Vita will always be my personal favourite Fellini film, but it’s a film of a totally different calibre. Fellini is such an unusual director because of the fact that his early films are predominantly realist films, but then his later films spiral into the realm of the bizarre and become predominantly formalist in their presentation. Fellini Satyricon is often likened to the acid cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo), but I feel that it’s a different type of expression than any of Jodorowsky’s films. Nothing in Fellini Satyricon is taboo. We have prostitution (both grotesque and sultry), pedophiles, lechery, homoeroticism and a sex-crazed Minotaur. There’s even an albino transsexual child god in the film, which was interesting, although the god’s appearance is short-lived. It’s fascinating to see such decadence in the society. The only other film I can recall with the same depiction of decadence is in the unfairly despised film Caligula (I’ll save that promising review for a rainy day). Even then, Fellini Satyricon is much more compelling than Caligula, and Fellini is more interested in aesthetics and culture rather than wild hardcore sex. The visual style of Fellini Satyricon is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. For example, in the opening scene of the film, a man’s hand is chopped off and replaced with a golden hand.

Encolpio, who is played by Martin Potter, finds his love interest Gitone (Max Born) after discovering that he has been sold to a local actor, and they set off into this strange world that Fellini has created. In my favourite scene in the film (I’ve included it below for your entertainment; the YouTube user who calls it “Random BS” doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about), Encolpio and Gitone travel through the seedy, lascivious underworld of Rome, encountering all manner of prostitutes, pimps, perverts and sexual deviants. It’s a bit terrifying, almost nightmarish at times, but there’s a sublime beauty to Fellini’s vision that stays true throughout the film. With regards to mise en scene, I prefer the congestion of the urban areas, but the scenes in the rural areas (particularly with the albino god) are also well done.

While the narrative is as fragmented as the text it stems from, it works in the favour of the film. It’s hard to pinpoint a concise story in this film, which isn’t really a bad thing either, because seeing is believing, and this more than delivers in the visual department. In fact, it’s probably the most visually arresting film I’ve ever seen. I’ve recommended this film to Humanities students, who might enjoy this vision of decadent Rome (no lawn mower executions here, but it does have an albino god child), but I think this film would mostly appeal to people who are interested in the arts and particularly avid film buffs. If anyone is serious about directing and costume design, they must see this film. There’s so much to see, and I’ll leave it at that. You’ll feel disgusted, appalled and aroused at times, but you’ll ultimately be amazed at what Fellini has created. I hated this film at first because it felt almost overwhelming, but after a second viewing, I learned to love it, and it’s now one of my absolute favourite films. I’ve included an excerpt of the underworld sequence and the trailer for your convenience. The movie taglines boasts “Rome. Before Christ. After Fellini.” That sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s actually so true. Fellini Satyricon is an absolute visual feast, and Fellini delivers.

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