Sunday, March 30, 2014

Glimpse of Beauty is What We Live For

La Grande Bellezza/The Great Beauty (2013) - Sorrentino
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With sweeping camera movements and energetic soundtrack, The Great Beauty grabs you from the get-go. It's Rome's socialite, Jep (Toni Servillo)'s 65th birthday. Jep wrote a famous book once, some 40 years ago. Now he is writing and interviewing people for some celeb gossip magazine. Living in an opulent building with the big terrace overlooking the famous Colosseum, Jep's life is one big party, night after night. His party guests are perpetually engaged in frivolous conversations and take jabs at each other when they are not dancing, drinking or fucking. Jep, always a cigarette and beatific smile fixed on his face, possesses a zen like tranquility. This is one the differences between him and Marcello from La Dolce Vita. Jep's in the middle of it, but he is also self-aware and sees through how silly his and his friend's lives are. A forever bachelor, he just observes everything from the center if that makes any sense. He made up his mind: after living 65 years, he will do anything he feels like doing. He breaks down a young performance artist who rams herself into a wall while being naked. She defends herself by saying that 'the artist doesn't have to explain herself'. He keeps asking the meaning of her art. She doesn't know. He gently tells off a snobby, condescending woman friend who accuses him of not contributing to society enough, that his book was pretentious. He quietly points out all the hypocrisy of her argument that she herself is a well-to-do, spoiled, rich woman. All they can do at their age, he says, is to go on without offending each other.

Even religion doesn't give Jep an answer to the spiritual longing to fill the vacuum. He realizes this when talking to a cardinal who's supposedly in line for the popedom and abandons the effort quickly. Funnily, the cardinal, who was rumored to be the best exorcist in his heydays, blesses him like he would the devil before taking off. A man who's been a husband of Jep's first love visits him and tells him that his wife has died. Upon reading his wife's diary, he found that it was Jep she loved all this time. But she left him back then. With this, Sorrentino opens up to the glimpse of the great beauty without sentimentality but with much grace and wisdom.

The Great Beauty is immaculately done film. It is truly virtuosic filmmaking from beginning to end. Obviously there are odes to Fellini- magician, a knife thrower and a fat woman who comes out of the birthday cake who resembles Saraghina on the beach from 8 1/2. If the film is a reflection of the Bellusconi bunga-bunga era and its hollowness, that's fine too. It still retains that melancholy and sadness and silence and thoughtfulness against that super stylized, slick, camera moves and gyrating, young bodies and loud dance music. One of the best films I've seen this year, so far.

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