Thursday, December 05, 2013

"The Great Beauty": It dazzles, but it could have become an even stronger "meta-film", pleasing Thomas Carlyle

I went to see the 142-minute “The Great Beauty” (“La grande bellezza”), by Paolo Sorrentino, expecting an inexpensive wide-screen trip to Rome.  The film was dazzling technically (in 2.35:1) and brilliant with Italian sunlight, or with disco strobe-lights often enough.  You got to see the tourists’ Rome, along the river, the aerial view around the Coliseum, and maybe some Appian vineyards and cemeteries, rather reminding you of Resphighi. The rest of this meta-film was rather internal.
    
The opening takes us through the loud Rome party circuit until it gives us a title page and introduces the 65-year-old protagonist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo, although it would have been easy to imagine Anthony Hopkins).  Jep has built his entire life around one novella, “The Human Apparatus”.  He has spent his life as an observer rather than a real participant, cataloguing the emotions of others while refusing to dive in and experience them.  Is that me?
 
The centerpoint of the “plot” is that a male contemporary suddenly weeps when that friend’s wife dies, and then tells Jep that his wife really loved Jep more her entire life, but somehow Jep was never able to get real.
   
The film is filled with existential conversations at various party, religious, and funeral scenes.  About half way through, another female author, herself prolific with eleven romance novels, talks about how she “sacrificed” to have and raise her children.  The real sacrifice is not evident to Jep, who obviously refused to take the risk at all.  Later, there is encounter with a 104-year-old nun who says, “I took a vow of poverty.  You can’t talk about the vow, you have to live it”. 
  
What did Jep live off, all of these decades?  If his novel sold well enough to pay his way in life to wealth, shouldn’t the movie incorporate it somehow as a subplot (rather like “Sartor Resartus”, as in mu Books blog, Dec. 2).  What if Jep had been gay? 
   
   
The official site (Indigo and Medusa films) is here. The film is distributed by Janus Films, a brand I usually see with older independent films.  The film will surely get nominated for best foreign language film this year’s Oscars.  I’m surprised it doesn’t have a larger corporate distributor (like Sony, Fox, TWC, Liosngate, etc)  in the US (as it does have in Europe).  This film might well have become a “roadside attraction”. 
     
I saw this at Landmark E Street in the evening in Washington DC, and, in a smaller auditorium on a weeknight, the show nearly sold out, with mostly a young adult audience (largely male).    
     

Wikipedia attribution link for Colosseum (or Coliseum) picture 

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