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Satyricon
(35mm)

Screening on Film
Directed by Federico Fellini.
With Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born.
Italy/France, 1969, 35mm, color, 130 min.
Italian and Latin with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA

Assembled from the bits and pieces that survive of a first-century AD text by Roman writer Petronius, Fellini Satyricon is an unapologetically scrambled and barely comprehensible period saga that loosely trails the exploits of Encolpio (Martin Potter), an aggrieved and sexually confused wanderer who lusts after an androgynous boy named Gitone (Max Born) but finds his desire consistently thwarted by the machinations of a decadent and unstable society. Story, however, is merely a clothesline here for Fellini’s extravagantly mounted, excessively detailed panoramas of an ancient Rome that could only spring from his imagination—a place of hedonistic excess and barbaric cruelty that is as much indebted to Sixties’ countercultural fashions as it is to historical record. Utilizing grand backdrops and myriad forced perspective tricks, the director turns Cinecittà backlots into sets that rival the scale and opulence of midcentury Hollywood epics but which, instead of wonderment, produce a sense of disorientation and phantasmagoria. As garish painted faces break the fourth wall, the film stages large-scale feasts, various pansexual erotic activities, an earthquake catastrophe, and even a clash with a minotaur, and yet, for all its frenzied spectacle, it remains tethered to Encolpio’s melancholic longing throughout.

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