Monday, August 27, 2012

Fellini Satyricon - 1969

"Fellini Satyricon" - 1969
Dir. by Federico Fellini - 2 hrs. 8 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

If you're a fan of upper-thigh dude meat, "Fellini Satyricon" is going to be the film for you.  This film is literally a bonanza of high-rise tunics and loincloths.  But it's also a bit more than that.  But I do have to acknowledge that this is a movie with a lot of partially naked men (and women, but mostly men).  Now that that's out of the way, I'll also acknowledge that this is a very difficult film to write about.  There's the old canard about "dancing about architecture," but most film directors are flattering themselves if they think they're making movies that are really all that difficult to discuss with the written word.  If you were to line up pretty much anything released in the last decade with "Fellini Satyricon" or Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain," it would a be very jolting brush with reality.

The plot isn't unimportant, but this is a film that is dominated by visuals, and has long stretches that don't feature much dialogue at all.  Rather than make an attempt to explain the plot, I'll just give you the basic outline at the start of the film:  a young-ish boy (mid-teens, by appearance), Gitone (Max Born) is the focus of a love triangle between two roommates, Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) that's going awry.  The rest of the film sees Encolpio and Ascilto go their separate ways, yet fate sees them begrudgingly re-united in time.

The early part of the film has the truly stunning visual sequences.  There's a long walk through a Roman tenement that Encolpio and Gitone have to take in order to return to Encolpio's apartment that gives peek after peek into a series of apartments, each with their own distinct, depraved scenarios contained within.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Encolpio, Gitone, and even Ascilto are pretty boys, surrounded by a harsh world.  And just because you're going to see overtly sexual scenes throughout the film, that doesn't mean that the people engaged various states of nudity are going to be what you might call "camera-friendly."  It's an effective juxtaposition; having these beautiful flowers drifting through the ugly world, completely unconcerned with anything that exists outside of their grasp.

That scene indirectly leads into my favorite of the film, the banquet scene, which is hosted by Trimalchio (Mario Romagnoli), a wealthy man who fancies himself a poet.  The banquet itself is a hellish scene; everything exists in between red and orange, the revelers are all too jaded to look at anything before them through more than half-opened eyes.  And after seeing the seedy tenement earlier, it's clear that the only thing separating the actions of the rich and the poor are the quality of decorations.  The banquet devolves into an argument between Trimalchio and his wife, Fortunata (Magali Noel).  When Trimalchio recites poetry, Eumolpo (Salvo Randone) accuses him of plagarism, which essentially results in his death.  The entire sequence is fantastic, making explicit the gluttony of the wealthy, and covering the whole thing with an ick-factor that is visceral.

There are other good sequences and visuals throughout the film as well.  This is a visual treat, even when you're struggling to make heads or tails of what you're seeing.  I'm not sure I've ever seen another film where a female character could light fires with her vagina, and that's the sort of thing you'd probably remember having had seen.  There were couple of points where things were really dragging, but pacing is often a trade-off you have to be willing to make with directors like Federico Fellini, who are capable of such breathtakingly original spectacles.

I'm not entirely sure that I could recommend this film if this isn't the sort of thing you're already inclined to like.  And I'm also not sure that it's possible to really explain the flavor of this film; "Fellini Satyricon" is the product of the distinct vision of one man, and it's the sort of thing that simply doesn't exist at this point in film history (neither in scope nor in disregard for the sort of things that focus groups might tell you to axe, like the endless supply of upper-thigh dude meat).  There are traits for a viewer that would help your viewing experience to have: a good grasp of film history (so that you can understand just how insane this film is, and not just have a WTF reaction), some familiarity with stage productions (the dialogue is in that vein, although it's also in Italian, and thus subtitled), and an affinity for sixties and seventies art films (and the sometimes languid pacing contained within).  I do believe "Fellini Satyricon" is worth seeing, but it's not particularly viewer-friendly (aside from the aforementioned costuming issues, the dialogue is deliberately badly-synched, and the film jumps all over the place, an attempt to mimic the incomplete version of the original "Satyricon" text that has survived).  If you're looking for a light film to breeze through, this ain't it.  But if you're ready for a bit of a challenge, this might fit the bill.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

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