Fellini

A Second Look at Fellini Satyricon

#20 in my ranking of Federico Fellini’s films.

So, as I wrote in my review of Roma, the similar structure and differing opinions I had between that film and Fellini’s Saryricon made me want to revisit Fellini’s weird look at Ancient Rome. I got the movie with the Essential Fellini boxset, but I was torn about whether to watch it again. I had already reviewed it, and I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. So, with Roma coming to an end and a surprising amount of time left in the evening, I decided to just do it. I threw in Disc 10 of the set and rewatched Fellini Satyricon.

One thing I’ve noticed about my own reviews of Fellini’s films is that I talk, probably too much, about Fellini himself and where individual films fall into his body of work. I had watched Satyricon out of context, so I wanted to know if that context would help my appreciation of the film. I imagine some readers look at my reviews and assume that I only like the movies because I can name drop other Fellini films as I write about them. Well, I can name drop like crazy on this one, and yet, after a second viewing, I had the exact same reaction as in my first review.

It’s a technical marvel but I still feel like it’s a slideshow with little connecting everything. There’s a certain purposeness to that as Fellini adapted an incomplete text with gaps and he tried to capture the feel of those gaps and embrace a certain dream logic. Once a film starts trying to evoke dream logic, I immediately recall Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, I think one of the best examples of dream logic in film, and I can certainly see how Fellini followed a similar path as Kubrick. And yet I still find Kubrick’s film far more successful.

I think part of the key to that is the complete alienness of the world that Fellini creates. There’s nothing about this place that feels familiar or can give any kind of grounding to an audience. The sets are extravagant and unrealistic. The costumes unreal. The characters are amoral monsters all of them, and they’re often barely characters at all with characters changing concerns completely from one episode to the next. I was reminded of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto which created a similar world but gave a very simple story and used archetypes to help the audience through it. Fellini offered no similar helping hand to the audience, and the overall effect feels like a series of grotesque displays with no point.

Now, that’s not to say that it’s an obviously pointless exercise. There are similar feelings of sadness at the passing of lost things similar to what’s in Roma. The characters exist in a time where there is still antiquity behind them, and characters occasionally bemoan the lost morals or values of the past. The final, mid-sentence ending underlines that as the main character, Encolpius, simply disappears from his own story and appears on a fresco, along with several other characters from the film, on some deteriorating walls overlooking the sea as though his story was lost.

So, I think I better understand both those who praise the film and my own inability to do the same. It’s kind of impossible to look away as the movie unfolds as Fellini shows us so much that seems so alien to our own experience, but it ends up feeling more like a carnival than any other Fellini film. It’s sights and sounds with nothing to engage with the audience more than the grotesque. In terms of the word Felliniesque, I think it’s safe to call this the word’s purest manifestation.

3 thoughts on “A Second Look at Fellini Satyricon”

    1. That’s definitely the source of the story’s fragmentation, but I was just left with the impression after both viewings that the experiment in ultra-freeform storytelling didn’t really work.

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