Satyricon (film)

Infobox Film
name = Satyricon

imdb_id = 0064940
director = Federico Fellini
writer = Bernardino Zapponi
Federico Fellini
starring = Martin Potter
Hiram Keller
Max Born
Salvo Randone
Magali Noel
Alain Cuny
Lucia Bosè
Gordon Mitchell
Joseph Wheeler
cinematography = Giuseppe Rotunno
editing = Ruggero Mastroianni
producer = Alberto Grimaldi
music = Nino Rota
released = September 4, 1969
runtime = 129 minutes
country = ITA
language = Latin, Italian and many other languages

"Satyricon" ("Fellini Satyricon") is a 1969 Italian film by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on Petronius's work, "Satyricon", a series of bawdy and satirical episodes written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome.


The film opens on a graffiti-covered wall with Encolpio lamenting the loss of his lover Gitone to Ascilto. At the Baths, he learns that Ascilto abducted Giton and sold him to the actor Vernacchio. At the theatre, he watches as Vernacchio and Gitone perform in a lewd play based on the emperor's "miracle: a slave's hand is chopped off and replaced with a golden one. Encolpio storms onto the stage and reclaims Giton. Threatened by Vernacchio, they find refuge in the Roman brothel known as the Lupanare. After observing numerous sensual scenes, they return to Encolpio's home in the Insula Felicles, a Roman tenement building, where they find Ascilto waiting for them. Giton tells Encolpio that he prefers Ascilto and they divide their property. Giton leaves with Ascilto, driving Encolpio to despair. A sudden earthquake destroys the tenement.

Having survived the disaster, Encolpius meets the poet Eumolpus at the art museum. The elderly poet blames current corruption on the mania for money and invites his young friend to a banquet held at the villa of Trimalchio, a wealthy freeman, and his wife Fortunata. Eumolpus’s declamation of poetry is met with catcalls and thrown food. While Fortunata performs a frantic dance, the bored Trimalchio turns his attention to two very young boys. Scandalized, she berates her husband who attacks her then has her covered in gizzards and gravy. Fancying himself a poet, Trimalchio recites one of his finer poems whereupon Eumolpo accuses him of stealing verses from Lucretius. Enraged, Trimalchio orders the poet beaten by his slaves and roasted in the villa’s huge fireplace. Eumolpo barely escapes with his life.

The guests are then invited to visit Trimalchio’s tomb where the story of the Matron of Ephesus is recounted, the first of the stories within a story in the film. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Films of Federico Fellini", Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 260.] Encolpio finally leaves the villa with the drunken Eumolpo who bequeaths the spirit of poetry to his young friend.

Cesare, the albino emperor, is assassinated by rebel soldiers. Encolpio, Giton, and Ascilto are captured and imprisoned on the pirate ship of Lichas, a middle-aged merchant in the emperor's service. Lichas selects Encolpio for a Greco-Roman wrestling match and quickly subdues him. Smitten by his blond beauty, Lichas forces Encolpio to become his spouse in a wedding ceremony attended by his wife, Trifena. The rebel soldiers interrupt the travesty and behead Lichas under Trifena’s satisfied gaze.

Encolpio and Ascilto discover a patrician villa whose owners first set their slaves free and then commit suicide to escape the new emperor. That night, Encolpio and Ascilto make love with one of the African slave girls.

The two friends reach a desert. Ascilto placates a nymphomaniac's demands in a covered wagon while Encolpio waits outside, listening to the woman’s servant discuss an albino hermaphrodite reputed to possess healing powers at the Temple of Ceres. With the aid of a mercenary, they kidnap the hermaphrodite in the hope of obtaining a ransom. Once exposed to the desert sun, however, it sickens and dies of thirst. Enraged, the mercenary tries to murder his two companions but is overpowered and killed.

Captured by soldiers, Encolpio is released in a labyrinth and forced to play Theseus to a gladiator’s Minotaur for the amusement of spectators at the festival of the God of Laughter. When the gladiator spares Encolpio’s life, the festival rewards the young man with Ariadne, a sensual woman with whom he must couple as the crowd looks on. Impotent, Encolpio is brutally humiliated by Ariadne. Eumolpo offers to take him to the Garden of Delights where prostitutes are said to effect a cure but the treatment - gentle whipping of the buttocks - fails miserably. In the second of the stories within a story in the film, the owner of the Garden of Delights narrates the tale of Enotea to Encolpio. For having rejected his advances, a sorcerer curses a beautiful young woman: she must spend her days kindling fires for the village’s hearths from her genitalia. Inspired, Encolpio and Ascilto hire a boatman to take them to Enotea’s home. Greeted by an old woman who has him drink a potion, Encolpio falls under a spell where his sexual prowess is restored to him by Enotea in the form of an Earth Mother figure and sorceress.

When Ascilto is murdered in a field by the boatman, Encolpio decides to join Eumolpo's ship bound for North Africa. But Eumolpo has died in the meantime, leaving as his heirs all those willing to eat his corpse. Encolpio hasn't the stomach for this last and bitter mockery but is nonetheless invited by the captain to board the ship. In a voice-over, Encolpio explains that he set sail with the captain and his crew. His words end in mid-sentence, however, as the camera films a distant stretch of land then cuts to frescoes of the film’s characters on a crumbling wall.


*Martin Potter - Encolpio
*Hiram Keller - Ascilto
*Max Born - Gitone
*Salvo Randone - Eumolpo
*Mario Romagnoli - Trimalcione
*Magali Noël - Fortunata
*Capucine - Trifena
*Alain Cuny - Lica
*Fanfulla - Vernacchio
*Gordon Mitchell - robber
*Lucia Bosè - wife suicide
*Joseph Wheeler - husband suicide
*Donyale Luna - Enotea
*Danika La Loggia - Scintilla

Production history


A year prior to the release of the film had already seen another "Satyricon" directed by Gian Luigi Polidoro – hence the addition of "Fellini" to the title. Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich explains that when "Fellini starts work on "Satyricon", Alfredo Bini, another producer who'd registered the title in 1962, decides to push up his movie to compete. Grimaldi [Fellini's producer] tries to stop him with a lawsuit and loses. And so the production will be called "Fellini Satyricon", distinguishing it from the one produced by [Bini] ." [Kezich, Tullio, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", New York: Faber and Faber, 2006, p. 292.]


Co-screen-writer Bernardino Zapponi noted that Fellini used a deliberately jerky form of dubbing that caused the dialogue to appear out of sync with the actors' lips. This was in keeping with his original intention of creating a profound sense of estrangement throughout the film. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 244.]

Critical reception

First screened at the 30th Venice Film Festival on September 4 1969, the film received generally positive reviews by critics writing in "stunned bewilderment." [Kezich, Tullio, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", New York: Faber and Faber, 2006, p. 286.] Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich reports that there were "no outright negative reactions. The rampant moralizing of ten years ago seems to have passed out of fashion." [Kezich, Tullio, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 287.]

In his favorable "Corriere della Sera" review, Giovanni Grazzini argued that "Fellini's Rome bears absolutely no relationship to the Rome we learned about in school books. It is a place outside historical time, an area of the unconscious in which the episodes related by Petronius are relived among the ghosts of Fellini... His "Satyricon" is a journey through a fairytale for adults. It is evident that Fellini, finding in these ancient personages the projection of his own human and artistic doubts, is led to wonder if the universal and eternal condition of man is actually summed up in the frenzied realization of the transience of life which passes like a shadow. These ancient Romans who spend their days in revelry, ravaged by debauchery, are really an unhappy race searching desperately to exorcise their fear of death." [Quoted in Fava, Claudio G., Aldo Vigano, "The Films of Federico Fellini", New York: Citadel Press, 1990, p. 135. Grazzini's review first published in "Corriere della Sera", September 5 1969.]

Film critic Tullio Kezich saw the film as a study in self-analysis: "Everything seems to be aimed at making the viewer feel ill at ease, at giving him the impression that he is watching for the first time scenes from a life he never dreamed could have existed. Fellini has described his film as 'science fiction of the past,' as though the Romans of that decadent age were being observed by the astounded inhabitants of a flying saucer. Curiously enough, in this effort of objectivity, the director has created a film that is so subjective as to warrant psychoanalysis. It is pointless to debate whether the film proposes a plausible interpretation of ancient Rome, or whether in some way it illustrates Petronius: the least surprising parts are those that come closest to Petronius's text or that have some vague historical significance." [Quoted in Fava, Claudio G., Aldo Vigano, "The Films of Federico Fellini", New York: Citadel Press, 1990, p. 136. Kezich's review first published in "Panorama", September 18 1969.]


Difference from the original text

Petronius's original text survives only in fragments. While recuperating from a debilitating illness in 1967, Fellini reread Petronius and was fascinated by the missing parts, the large gaps between one episode and the next. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 239.] The text's fragmentary nature encouraged him to go beyond the traditional approach of recreating the past in film: the key to a visionary cinematic adaptation lay in narrative techniques of the dream state that exploited the dream's imminent qualities of mystery, enigma, immorality, outlandishness, and contradiction. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", p. 239.] In "Comments on Film", Fellini explained that his goal in adapting Petronius's classic was "to eliminate the borderline between dream and imagination: to invent everything and then to objectify the fantasy; to get some distance from it in order to explore it as something all of a piece and unknowable." [Fellini, Federico, "Comments on Film", ed. G. Grazzini (translated Joseph Henry), California State University at Fresno, 1988, p. 173.]

The most important of the narrative changes [ According to Bondanella, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", p. 246.] Fellini makes to Petronius’s text is the addition of a battle between Encolpio and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth thereby linking Encolpio to Theseus, the rescue of Ariadne, and the journey into the unconscious. Other original sequences include a nymphomaniac in a desert caravan whose despondent husband pays Ascilto and Encolpio to couple with her, and an hermaphrodite worshipped as a demigod at the Temple of Ceres. Abducted by the two protagonists and a mercenary, the hermaphrodite later dies a miserable death in a desert landscape that, in Fellini’s adaptation, is posed as an ill-omened event, none of which is to be found in the Petronian version.

Though the two protagonists, Encolpius (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller), reappear throughout, the characters and locations surrounding them change unexpectedly. This intentional technique of fragmentation conveys Fellini's view of both the original text and the nature of history itself, and is echoed visually in the film's final shot of a ruined villa whose walls, painted with frescoes of the scenes we have just seen, are crumbling, fading and incomplete. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", p. 240.] Fellini's interest in Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious is also on display with an abundance of archetypes in highly dreamlike settings. [Bondanella, Peter, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", p. 240.]

Notes and references

On the making of the film

A "making-of" directed by Gideon Bachman titled, "Ciao Federico – Fellini directs Satyricon", was filmed during the 1968 production.

Literature devoted to the actual creation of the film are as follows:

*Betti, Liliana, "Federico A.C.: disegni per il 'Satyricon' di Federico Fellini", Milan: Libri Edizioni, 1970
*Fellini, Federico, "Fellini Satyricon", ed. Dario Zanelli, New York: Ballantine, 1970
*Hughes, Eileen Lanouette, "On the Set of 'Fellini Satyricon': A Behind-the-Scenes Diary", New York: Morrow, 1971

External links

*Imdb title|id=0064940|title=Fellini - Satyricon
*allmovie title|id=1:17050|title=Fellini Satyricon
*Imdb title|id=0065551|title=Ciao Federico – Fellini directs Satyricon

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