Pros: Wonderous collage of images building a mood. Lots of sex and excess.
Cons: Like the Romans, one quickly becomes jaded. Is that a bad thing?
Fellini- Satyricon (1969) Directed by Federico Fellini
Ascilto... what does the poet say? Each moment presented may be your last, so fill it up until you vomit... or something such?-Encolpius
Our hero, Encolpius (Martin Potter) is in love with his slave Gitone (Max Born) so he is more than a bit ticked when his friend Ascilitus (Hiram Keller) sold the lad to a famous actor. He works diligently to retrieve the boy, and reclaims him, injecting himself into a performance, enriching the farce. They travel back home, and languish in afterglow until Ascilitus gets back home. Encolpius has had enough, and tells Ascilitus they are splitting their possessions and going their separate ways. Unfortunately, they have to split the boy as well, and Gitone chooses to go with Ascilitus. Encolpius' world is shattered, something soon reflected when their tenement suffers a catastrophic earthquake. Escaping alive, Encolpius flees to his teacher, the poet Eumolpius (Salvo Randone) and goes with him to the banquet of Trimalcione (Mario Romagnoli) a very wealthy ex slave who fancies himself a poet. There, they witness a parade of excess and wantoness, complete with Homeric poetry, lesbian courtship, deliberate humiliations and the host's funeral, so that he might enjoy hearing his own eulogies. From honored guest, Eumolpius goes to narrowly escaping being thrown in the fiery oven. Together, he and Encolpius leave, passing out in the fields, over come by wine. Encolpius wakes to find himself enslaved, bound for the pleasure pits of Caesar's Island retreat, saved by the desires of the sadistic captain, Licius (Alain Cuny) married as the groom to the old wrestler, and freed again as the assassination of the Emperor throws out the old regime, and establishes a new. Encolpius finds himself back in Ascilitus' company, living a life little better than bandits, robbing a temple of the precious albino hermaphrodite demi-god, and facing judgment at the hands of the minotaur.
If the plot line seems disjointed and random; well, it is. The scenes run together like a necklace strung by a three year old; each one is chosen because of the colour and whim of the artist. And yet there is a strong feeling of purpose in every shot. As random and overwhelming as these vignettes can be, they together build an effective mosaic. This is Rome, as a poem. It is not accurate, but it conveys truth. The excess and wantoness of the each scene, even as simple an act as walking home is a parade of perversion and deformity, builds a feeling of rather desperate ennui. Homosexuality and vice are the norm, and everyone is seeking something beyond what they have already experienced, looking for something that will make them feel again. There are themes of the ups and downs of fortune, watch Eumolpius for the clearest example, and of the excesses and loss of passion (impotence.)
Encolpius is a perfect example of choosing your friends carefully. He invested his love in Gitone, a completely unworthy vessel, and continued being friends with Ascilitius, even knowing he is faithless, manipulative, and delights in the misfortunes of others. In many ways, he brings every misery upon himself. In others, he like all men, are victims of the vagaries of fate, that theme of helplessness and mystification in the face of misfortune running throughout the piece. Fellini does not so much make a story, as build a collage. It's purpose is not to relate a history, but impart a mood.
When it came out, the Satyricon was considered to be damaging to the public morals. I find that almost funny, now, since the film is so clearly about the price of excess. The other funny story connected to it, when asked why both the leading roles were played by foreign actors and not Italians, Federico Fellini replied, "Because there are no Italian homosexuals."
Petronius' Satyricon has only survived in fragments. This film reflects that fragmentary nature, even to stopping in mid sentence, just as the surviving manuscript does.
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