R Dir: Federico Fellini | Criterion | 2h 8min
Plot: What’s it about?
Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) have been friends for some time, but when an argument brews and tempers rise, the two decide to call it quits and head their own separate ways. The stern words come from a disagreement over the ownership of Gitone (Max Born), a young boy the two have known. Once the friends divide their stuff and prepare to split paths, they allow the young man to choose who he goes with, which seems fair enough. Gitone chooses to travel with Ascilto and this drives Encolpio into a depression, in which he almost kills himself, but is spared thanks to some sudden quakes. As time passes and both friends encounter some adventures, they soon find themselves together again, in the midst of yet another off the wall caper. The gents rescue a demigod from a temple, but when things take a tragic turn, Encolpio becomes impotent and that is not good in the least. Now these friends must seek out a cure for this mishap and soon, otherwise who knows what in the heck might happen.
I do like the films of Federico Fellini, but I don’t place him among my personal favorite directors. His visual sense is excellent and he knew how to make a memorable picture, but when visuals are all that he used, I tend to be let down. I do like this film as well as Fellini’s Roma, but I don’t watch either of them often and don’t consider them to be great films in the end. The visuals are downright amazing to be sure, but I wish the storyline and characters were better explored. I can view Satyricon when I am in the mood for a visual treat, but I often find myself noticing the absence of traditional elements, which is not good. I can very much understand why Fellini’s films of this nature are so well liked, but I simply can’t be absorbed into them often, which is why I don’t hold them up with his better efforts. Call me sentimental, but I like to have a better storyline and some good performances to match the intense visuals in movies, at least most of the time. I do recommend Satyricon however and with such a low priced disc here, I think this release is well worth a look, although a rental is in order for first timers.
As per usual, director Federico Fellini conjures up a visual feast, loaded with all sorts of eye candy to take in. This signals good signs to fans of Fellini’s cinema, but those not used to his style might find this to be overindulgent, perhaps even pretentious. There is a basic storyline to be found in Satyricon however, so newcomers to Fellini should feel grounded at the least, even if the story is pushed aside often. In other words, the story and characters are given much screen time, but they always seem to play second fiddle to the lush visuals, which could frustrate non fans of Fellini. But the balance is more even in Satyricon, so I think both fans and newcomers should be pleased in the end. Other films directed by Fellini include And The Ship Sails On, Juliet of the Spirits, La Dolce Vita, Amarcord, Nights of Cabiria, and La Strada. The cast here includes Hiram Keller (Smiles of Gena, Night of the Flowers), Alain Cuny (Emmanuelle, The Red Rose), Martin Potter (The Big Sleep, Satan’s Slave), Max Born, and Capucine (Song Without End, Curse of the Pink Panther).
Video: How does it look?
Criterion has acquired the rights to this Fellini film via Twentieth Century Fox and, let me tell you, they’ve knocked it out of the park with this new 4K restoration. Admittedly, Fellini Satyricon has always had a rather unique look and feel to it, but this 2.35:1 AVC HD image looks so much better than its DVD predecessor that there really is no fair comparison. There is still a bit of slight grain evident, but the overall image seems cleaned up. Contrast has been improved to work a bit better with the black levels, which gives the film a more “lively” look, but detail level is still consistent and the image is more than acceptable. This movie is about as “visual” as it gets and it finally looks the part. Score another one for Criterion here.
Audio: How does it sound?
Like the DVD, the original Italian audio is presented via a mono track, which is a rather limiting experience, but it still comes across well enough in the end. The dialogue is clean and easy to understand, with minimal volume or age problems to contend with. Granted if your Italian isn’t up to par, you’ll have to rely on the subtitles, which have also been given a new translation. So while the audio is a bit limited in times, it’s a bit cleaner, crisper and more direct than the DVD from ages ago. Another fine job here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Ciao, Federico! – Leftover from the LaserDisc is Gideon Bachmann’s hour-long documentary shot on the set of Fellini Satyricon
- Archived Interviews – Director Federico Fellini is profiled in some rather vintage pieces.
- New interview with Rotunno – Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotunno is interviewed with this new feature. He speaks of his collaboration on the new transfer, the film itself and the lasting influence of Fellini’s films.
- Documentary – Focusing on Fellini’s adaptation of Petronius’s work, this features interviews with classicists Luca Canali, a consultant on the film, as well as Joanna Paul.
- New Interview with Photographer Mary Ellen Mark – Mark tells of her experiences on the set and her iconic photographs of Fellini and his film as well as some of the challenges working with the director.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Collectable Booklet – Features an essay by film scholar Michael Wood