Dan and I went to see The Great Beauty on the weekend. I want to read the Anthony Lane review but, as I am not a subscriber to the New Yorker, I can only get the first page.
The Roger Ebert, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-great-beauty-2013, will provide the details the below ramble will not, but I want to find a review that is slightly more critical than those I have read, including that one.
It is of course easy to be hesitant and suspicious when going into an award winning film and so it pleased me to be pleased (!) in the first half or so: The beautiful choir opening piece, the blast of fete juxtaposed with the twee soft score for the white dancers in glass boxes. Rome as a party. The handsome soft weary face of the lead character, Jep Gambardella, a once-novelist, now sometimes interviewer, honest, funny, smart:
Elegantly attired, his gray hair swept back and curling at his neck, a handkerchief fountaining out of his jacket pocket, Jep is the very picture of the flâneur, the 19th-century urban stroller and spectator immortalized by Charles Baudelaire and in whom, Walter Benjamin wrote, “the joy of watching is triumphant.” What the flâneur watches is modern life, and other people. “The crowd is the veil,” Benjamin wrote, “through which the familiar city beckons, to the flâneur as phantasmagoria — now a landscape, now a room.”
(taken from The New York Times’ review)
The death of Jep’s first lover brings a self-awareness of his lifestyle, perhaps a newfound look at his city. Maybe he did not have this degree of analysis prior, maybe he did and it has now “come to a head”. He is critical of others’ pretentiousness and sensitive to cliches but the film itself is a little of those two things. This, as a premise, is appealing to me. Yet the film started to feel a little too gimmicky for my liking. And its gimmicks were a little repetitive. I often have this issue: A film adopts a particular visual quirk or style and because it is unique and oftentimes striking, it stands out, it becomes more obvious than the more usual, plainer filming techniques we see all the time and don’t think about it, and so I tire of it quickly, yeah yeah I get it, you open quite a few scenes with the person close-up front-centre of camera, etc.
The ending was a make or break point for me, it could have taken me back to an embrace of the initial enjoyment of the carnival quirky stylistic elements, the ‘superficial extravagance' (Washington Post), the surreal. Lane says, on that one page of his review that I could read:
Asked why he [Jep] produced no further books, he claims that he went out too much at night, and adds, “Rome makes you waste a lot of time.” That wastage is laid forth by the film as a jeweller displays his wares.
And these largely visual elements of the film made it feel like an important piece of cinema and one I appreciated. The jewels were pretty either because they were beautiful or appealingly grotesque. But what the ending made me feel instead was that it was not a perfect polished whole and not in a deliberate way, like the idea that “life is a trick” was a bit of nonsense, or at least not instructive and not entirely consistent with the amusement of the optical drama that preceded it. Although perhaps the Italian word was poorly translated. Perhaps the English translation is “life is a farce”.
Personally, I could have done with a bit more of a story that resonated, although I appreciate that was not the calling card of the movie. In the Guardian interview, the film’s director, Paulo Sorrentino:
Hi Paolo, has the success of the film surprised you?
Yeah! I’m really surprised. Because the movie is not so simple. It’s long, the plot is fragile; I didn’t think it was for a big audience.
A few images from the film I liked, and many more in my head which are not below because they cannot be found on a google image search: