The Great Beauty: A story about rich old people contemplating societal retirement.
I had never heard of Paolo Sorrentino till today. He definitely didn’t feature in the “almost great” catalogue, which I would have known about as I frequently used these film makers as my source of reference to search for others. To say the truth, The Great Beauty could not leave an imprint which showed any promise of permanency.
One scene contained Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo), a sixty-five year old aging former novelist and party animal socialite, asking his maid, who also serves as his trustworthy listener and friend, if he could write a book about nothing, a feat which novelist Gustave Flaubert failed at accomplishing. To grasp the undermined dour futility draped beneath the never ending conundrum of “blah, blah, blah” according to him, as Jep mentions during his final discourse, would be a task sailing away from fruition.
But the poignant nothingness around Gambardella, juxtaposed amidst the embellished opulence of modern day Rome, throughout the film, would have been mostly unaccounted for, had Tony Servillo not delivered at his task. The moving camera focussing his walks and slowly transcending into a pidgeon’s eye view of the breath taking grandeur of the city did easily shroud the story of an old man strolling around Rome only to find even more strange things to see.
Sorrentino must had it in his mind to emulate Flaubert’s paradigm and build upon it to develop a film which would actually be something about nothing but the entire plan got reduced to a stroll through the lives of a generic group of uber-socialites going with their pretentious lifestyles amidst the web of uncertainty, self-doubt, hard partying, domestic turmoil and even death. It’s far from the conformist Hollywood storyline all right, but still a little far away from being just enough.
All of these centre around Jep Gambardella, who often throws these parties at his home while at the same time maintaining the air of misanthropy. The protagonist in some sequences is fighting to find some synapse linking him again with the better stages of his life, where he found some purpose. He sees the sea with the imprinted furrow of a motor boat reminding him of his ebullient younger days. He thinks about his first time with a girl beneath the light house. These memories are now probably the only support to his persona, after all these years of lazily passing his time off dwelling on the royalty of his first book, an Italian masterpiece. Every character has a small part to play in the aura of confused reality that The Great Beauty dwells upon. Every character in a way is damaged. The plight of the Berlusconi’s modern day Roman upper class strata has been depicted with almost a possessive light. The train which goes nowhere, as Jep laughingly calls it.
Well it’s all the same for us in India too right. There is no difference between an intellectual drunk and a foolish drunk. Is there??
However, almost everything about the film comes in patches which are not linked by any substantial reason or sense. Now I know it was supposed to be that way but it just occurred to me that the film was lacking the finesse to make its ambiguousity pack any punch. This may keep the audience at preferable edge and always craving for some final settlement which never comes as the film approaches a surreal climactic phase not in sync with things which happened before but somehow yet comprehensible. How? I’ll need to see the film again to answer that.
The sea on the ceiling, the sisters, the giraffe and the saint connote if nothing instilled in me a sense of a cinematic circus, where each character played their own roles but contributed very little to nullify the underwhelming aura of the circus. Nothing happened eventually. People only went round and round as they have been going on for ever and ever. Only death could the prognosis to this monotonic matrimony. That’s the story, as it was almost supposed to be.
The scenes have been ostentatiously jewelled with rich music scores which makes one feel like sitting inside an orchestra pit listening to some popular Italian pop music. This mixture somehow fits and delivers, in instances, to the overall Great Beauty of the film which sadly may or may not stay with you.
I feel that I have been too harsh with my perspective. We all attain a better understanding when we see things with senses matured over time. Till then I still have two more Sorrentinos left, namely- Youth and The Consequences of Love. I’ll keep them waiting for a while if I can.