There’s no question that Paolo Sorrentino‘s The Great Beauty (Janus, 11.15) is a mesmerizing film. Dazzling, swirly, lacquered and narrated to a fare-thee-well — a resigned and somewhat rueful examination of a 21st Century La Dolce Vita lifestyle of a journalist-novelist (the great Toni Servillo) who’s letting it all slip away. It finally feels more Roman that universal, but the diversions are quite formidable. It’s very beautiful, meditative…a big ambitious reach. I said as much last May in Cannes. But what a comedown to have seen it on the big Lumiere screen inside the Grand Palais, and know that it’s set to play on one of those cramped shoebox spaces at the Lincoln Plaza. Something unjust about that.
It sounds curious and perhaps a bit elitist on some level, I know, but where and how you see a film matters a great deal. It’s not as important as what a film actually “is”, of course, but the point is to lose yourself, to forget everything and just sink into it like Ewan MacGregor‘s junkie sinks into that shag rug in Trainspotting. I’ve watched films at the Lincoln Plaza many times, and sinking into rugs is the last thing on my mind. What I want to do is escape. It always seems to feel a little too warm. The air doesn’t feel fresh enough or something. It’s basically an environment you have to accept or get the hell out of. I enjoy the snug rabbit-hole feeling of the Lincoln Plaza when it’s howling cold or snowing or raining up on the street, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
The Great Beauty (a.k.a., La Grande Bellezza) “is not just a return to the highly stylized realm of Il Divo, but a channelling of Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita with perhaps a few sprinkles of Fellini Satyricon,” I wrote last May. “It’s a contemporary Roman dream fantasia, familiar and picturesque and deliciously unreal, that serves as a kind of meditation or spiritual journey piece about a 60ish good-time-Charlie journalist (Toni Servillo) trying to cut through the crap and clutter of his life and perhaps get beyond regarding everything and everyone with a smirk and rediscover something sacred…a sense of purpose or connectivity, God, love, or a yen to write books again.
“His name is Jep Gambardella, and he’s a burnt-out case who wrote one compelling novel (or ‘novelette,’ as one of his friends calls it) a few decades back but since then has become a likably decadent party animal, living the nocturnal high life with a crowd of elite Roman pallies cut from the same cloth as Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg and all the other decadent Romans some 53 and 50 years ago, respectively. The film is also a love letter to Rome, which is shot and lighted with a delicious syrupy vibe and exquisite tonal balance (I was reminded at times of the colorfully glossy style of Radley Metzger, no offense) and presented like some kind of old-world architectural symphony.
“What is La Grande Bellezza about? Not just poor jaded Jep and the sadness and loss that he feels as he says ‘aah, fuck it’ over and over and looks back at his youth and a girl who dropped him to his everlasting regret, but also how shallow and puerile and sad and ‘nothing’ the Roman lah-lahs are and how it all adds up to the smallest hill of beans imaginable, but what a delight for the eyes as all this nothingness unfolds, over and over in rolling orgasmic waves.
“I suppose La Grande Bellezza‘s biggest star and biggest believer in beauty is Sorrentino, in a sense, and the real subject is what a visual maestro he can be when he puts his mind to it. That’s all I can gather at this point. I loved drifting along and going with the pageantry, but I can’t honestly say I was riveted or elated. I felt as if I was cruising along in an electric tour bus with a glass of champagne in my hand, and sometimes smiling and at other times smirking or going ‘hmmm’ but always delighted at how great it all looks.”
I love this teaser that popped up just before the Cannes debut. It doesn’t convey what the film is, but it’s a lovely and immersive taste of Rome.