At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

FELLINI SATYRICON (Criterion Collection)

By • Apr 8th, 2015 •

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Very few have succeeded in making a feature-length film that practically dares you to watch it. Not in the sense of it being sexually explicit or stomach-turningly violent, but just in being a disorienting, slow, unusually alien experience. Fellini, no stranger to weird visuals, goes into overdrive on making the audience uncomfortable for the two-hour-plus duration of SATYRICON, a film loosely adapted from ancient Roman courtier Petronius’ then-contemporary novel of Rome.

The film follows Encolpio, Gitone, and Ascilto, three young men and their adventures through Rome during the rule of Emperor Nero. There’s no central plot, just a series of loosely-connected vignettes that often start and stop very abruptly, which is by design as Petronius’ original text only survives in fragments.

Not only is the film made to be intentionally hard to follow, but the sets look truly otherworldly, the actors’ lips are intentionally out of synch, and background characters will stare into the camera as if looking back out at the audience. This is not an easy film to watch, to be honest, its downright exhausting by the end, but there’s little else like it as far as narrative feature films go.

Criterion’s Blu-Ray release utilizes a new 4K transfer, which looks gorgeous, with eye-popping color and a great deal of depth to the image. The last time Criterion held the home video rights to FELLINI SATYRICON was all the way back in 1988, when they released the film on LaserDisc. The key feature from that release, CIAO, FEDERICO!, a fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes documentary shot during production, finally makes its digital debut. The documentary shows candid footage of Federico Fellini and his cast and crew, including a surprise visit by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. Also present are a reading of Eileen Lanoutte Hughes’ behind-the-scenes memoir ON THE SET OF FELLINI SATYRICON, as well as a documentary that elaborates on Petronius’ original novel and the deviations Fellini made from it, which boasts new interviews with Luca Canali, a classicist and consultant on the film, as well as historian Joanna Paul.

For fans of SATYRICON, this set is a godsend. It’s been interesting to see that the film is still a source of confusion and sharply-divided reviews. As Paul and Canali state in their supplemental interview, the film is meant to be disorienting and fragmented, exemplified by the film’s ending, which shows murals of the film’s characters and events crumbling and spaced far apart from each other on a beach. Those who can sit through two hours of bizarre and often bewildering vignettes would do well to give it a watch, as there is little else like it, and it is brimming with visuals that will stay with the viewer for a long time.

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