BLU-RAY REVIEW: FELLINI – SATYRICON (1970) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: FEDERICO FELLINI / SCREENPLAY: FEDERICO FELLINI, BERNARDIO ZAPPONI / STARRING: MARTIN POTTER, HIRAM KELLER, MAX BORN, SALVO RANDONE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 27TH
Written and directed by Federico Fellini, and very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Petronius, Satyricon is a satirical epic in the guise of ancient Roman excess. It’s a disjointed narrative that blends the fantastical with a send up of Roman culture and its mythology. Whatever you think of Fellini’s thematically dense and often overblown productions, you can’t deny his rightful claim to Eureka’s Masters of Cinema collection.
Even from the opening with Encolpio’s (Potter) operatic soliloquy to camera, you know you’re in a pantomime world, one of pure cinematic construction. It’s a staggering production, filled with opulent sets, both evocative and at other times unsettling.
Like the rich myth and art of ancient Rome, Satyricon is homoerotic to the umpteenth degree, and for much of the film it sees its two main characters competing for the love of the young boy Gitone. When asked why he didn’t cast Italian actors for the lead roles (instead opting for the English Potter and American Hiram Keller), Fellini infamously replied that there are no Italian homosexuals.
Director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno masterfully uses shadow and constructs awing images. It’s a very textual film, with deep layered shots and plenty going on at the sides and background. Perhaps most arresting, though, is the impressive effects and detailed backdrops. It’s easy to forget it was made in 1969.
There’s an option for the dreadful English language dub track, if you’re so inclined, though, the original Italian dub is clunky and out of synch. But co-screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi has claimed that Fellini deliberately used dubbing that was out of synch to perpetuate the estrangement he had always envisioned at the heart of the film.
In terms of narrative, Satyricon remains an enigma, one not to be taken literally or thought of linearly. But taken purely as cinema, it’s one of the most visually playful, inventive and striking films, and certainly a highpoint of visual wizardry Fellini never quite topped again.
Extras: Optional English soundtrack / 48-page booklet.