Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Ensemble Film, Period Film, Gay & Lesbian Films  |   Run Time - 128 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jonathan Crow

A director known for picaresque narratives and grotesque imagery, Federico Fellini's Satyricon is easily his most lurid and bizarre work. The film is both a continuation of the director's obsessions and a stark break from previous works. Just as in La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, Fellini strives to create a work that captures the zeitgeist of a given era with his inimitable brand of psychological realism. Unlike his earlier works, Satyricon dispenses with any kind of moorings in reality, favoring instead a stream of pungent images barely connected by narrative. Though the film is structured with a fragmented narrative, Satyricon is far from being formless. As a whole, the film is a rumination on the varieties of male sexuality. The first third of the film deals with primarily homosexual themes: Encolpio is heartbroken over the loss of his boy lover; Trimalchio lavishes attention on his; and the Lichas impresses Encolpio into a gay wedding at sea. The middle section complicates manners, first with a threesome between Encolpio, Ascilto, and a young slave girl, and then more strikingly with the presence of the hermaphrodite fortune teller. The film finishes by exploring hetero motifs: Encolpio discovers that he is impotent while flailing around on the alter of the whore-priestess, and then recovers his virility while pleasuring Oneothea, a corpulent sorceress sex therapist. On another level, Satyricon mirrors the chaos and decadence of Europe in the late '60s. Every character in the film is corrupt, libidinous, avaricious, and estranged from tradition and family. Ancient Rome is rotten to the core. Taken in conjunction with films like La Dolce Vita, Fellini's critique of modern mores develops a real bite. Though not as highly regarded as his other works such as La Strada, Satyricon is a rich and lyrical masterpiece.