More than debated Satyricon by Federico Fellini, liberally draws its inspiration from the novel written by Petronio Arbitro. It was distributed and produced by the P.E.A in collaboration with Les Productions Artistes Associes of Paris. The shootings were definitely completed in 1969, puzzling all the experts; as a matter of fact the same Fellini defined the movie as “an essay of science-fiction of the past”.
Once distributed in the cinemas, the movie received consents and disapprovals, the critics were literally divided and on specialized magazines were to be read absolutely contrasting opinions.
The main characters of this masterpiece are Ascilto (Hiram Keller) and Encolpio (Martin Potter), two young Romans, who scrape by as best as they can on their wits in a decadent and vulgar imperial Rome dominated by the new social classes, immersed in “an aura in between truth and imagination”.
The two fall desperate in love with the ephebe Gitone (Max Born), who, after a relation with each of them, chooses Ascilto. At this point, Encolpio, dejected by ephebe’s choice, lets himself go in countless adventures: he passes from an earthquake to the lavish banquets in the house of depraved men, till the moment in which he reaches the ship of the pirate Lica at the service of the emperor, where he meets again Gitone and Ascilto.
The story of the two takes shape among rapes, kidnappings and dangers of all kind, from which the figure of the Minotaur emerges, against whom Encolpio fights and is defeated. Later on Ascilto dies and Encolpio plunges into the depth sadness, to the extent of embarking on a ship bound for Africa, belonging to the old poet Eumolpo (Salvo Randone), who dies naming his heir whoever will eat his own flesh, however Encolpio refuses.
Petronio’s masterpiece only gave to Fellini the idea for his Satyricon. In fact the director, refers to the text from which the script is drawn, only in a few occasions, but he succeeds to narrate all the time, with extreme ability, the styles of life of the past, bringing to light several behavioural leanings of modern society.
Fellini tells us the daily life of Ancient Rome, transporting the audience in an indefinite space, where the instability of human condition is tangible, where feelings and sensations are omnipresent.
In the narrative a number of discrepancies show up, but they are redeemed by the extreme evocative force that the movie gives off during its 138 minutes length.
Fellini’s direction received a nomination to the Oscar Awards, and also not a few from the cast won important awards: Fanfulla, one of the actors in a supporting role, won in 1970 the silver ribbon, together with Giuseppe Rotunno for the best cinematography and Danilo Donati for the best production design and for the best costume design.
Danilo Donati’s work was decisive for the success of the movie, he faithfully reproduced, with great skill indeed, the setting and costumes of the Roman society during the Empire, without forgetting anything, taking care to the tiniest details. Danilo Donati is considered by the critics and experts one of the most serious and competent professionals that cinema ever had. After numberless works in movies by the biggest Italian and foreign directors he ends with his death a glorious career in the movie “Pinocchio” by Roberto Benigni in 2001. With this movie he won the David di Donatello award either as best production design and best costume design, leaving the cinema world, as a critic wrote upon his death, with his “customary class”.
Saverio Frisina - translated by Francesca Torri