You’d be hard pushed to fit the word ‘Spartan’ to Federico Fellini’s post-neo-realism work, but Satyricon sees the director of La Dolce Vita at his most lavish. Reality and narrative logic are left at the door, and we’re thrown into a blend of myth and historical epic.
Satyricon is based on the book by Petronius, and follows Encolpio (Martin Potter) on a long and complicated journey that starts with the hunt for his servant boy/lover Gitone (Max Born), who has been sold by his cackling roommate Ascilto (Hiram Keller), and ends with the hunt for a cure for his suddenly flaccid member.
It’s a giddy and disorientating picaresque that takes in lavish feasts and fights with minotaurs as Encolpio goes from student to slave to gladiator, led by impulse. It’s his love for Gitone that begins the story, but Fellini channels the spirit of Rome at its most decadent as the sins are fully indulged.
It’s almost too much in places, as the dinner given by ludicrously wealthy Trimalcione (Mario Romagnoli) stretches on, the guests gorging on the delicacies hidden inside the entire roast pig, bickering and pawing at each other, until figures in the crowd calmly stare out at the viewer break the fourth wall. There’s a wicked sense of humour at play throughout as the story flips from absurd to tragic to back again.
Fellini described the film as a sci-fi story set in the past, and that is in no way a contradiction when you’ve seen it; indeed, Encolpio’s fumbling journey through this highly sexed landscape is almost Barbarella-esque in places. It’s constructed to disorient the viewer. Our hero finds himself in new scenarios with no explanation, and the dubbed dialogue is deliberately out of sync.
Satyricon does threaten to drag in places, but it’s an incredibly rendered piece of fantastic cinema. It transports the viewer to a landscape that appears familiar, but offers uncertain ground. This is a feast for the senses that will leave you feeling a little bloated, albeit glad you indulged.