Federico Fellini presents an incredible fresco-like vision of Rome’s social structure 2,000 years ago in which survival and pleasure were man’s sole motivating forces. The $3 million film is as loosely segmented as the original classic Latin satire by Petronius. Fellini and his script collaborators adapted what they wanted from the surviving fragments of the original work and nibbled on other ancient legends and writings – or fictionalized – to complete.
The adventures of two young student vagabonds Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) – both infatuated with a young boy, Gitone (Max Born) – constitute the bare continuity for a hallucinating view of Roman life.
Big sequence (overlength) is the phantasmagorical banquet of wealthy captain of commerce Trimalchio (Mari Romagnoli) also attended by Encolpio and his poet protector Eumolpus (Salvo Randone). Encolpio is then enslaved aboard ship of Tryphaena (Capucine) and her husband Lichas (Alain Cuny). After escaping to the mainland, Encolpio later finds himself in a labyrinth combatting a Minotaur. His life is spared and he is turned over to insatiable Ariadne, but is shattered to discover a sudden, mysterious impotence.
Pic is Fellini’s break with the autobiographical in filmmaking. Dialogue in Italian is static and weighs on this vividly visual fresco. Here and there, footage needs explanation or definition.
Danilo Donati’s production design and sets, set dressing and costumes are of award quality. Makeup is also brilliantly innovated by Rino Carbone. Potter and Keller acquit themselves in a difficult debut when the film is at its spectacular height during the first hour.