Yeah, this is one of those "Not Rateds" that is totally rated R. It has lots of nudity and language. It is not overtly offensive, but it touches on some questionable subject matter.
DIRECTOR: Paolo Sorrentino
I thought of a cool project that I might start slowly incorporating into this blog. As I watch my hits dip as summer progresses, I might just make little review games for myself. I might start reviewing people's favorite movies. I once had a problem with this back in college. I watched Scarface, the DePalma one, after a kid in the dorm told me that it was the greatest movie ever made. I hated it. Sorry, Scarface fans. You should keep liking it. I hated it. When he asked me what I thought and I told him that I didn't love it, he lost his mind on me. But I do want to know what people claim as their favorite movie. This is someone I know's favorite movie. At least, it was the movie he recommended me.
I want to psychoanalyze the recommender of this movie with the knowledge that this is his favorite film. You know how some people claim that owners start to look like their dogs? I'm pretty sure this person doesn't own a dog, but this movie is telling of their personality so hard. There is so much going on here and the movie is absolutely fascinating. I'm going to go into filmmaking and directorial choices, but front and center of this movie is the exploration of art, the discomfort of aging, the oppression of regret and more. This movie is deep as heck, guys. I can't recommend it as a romp for an evening. (I'm ashamed because the movie I followed it up with is Attack of the Clones, so I'm saying that I'm balanced on terms of depth.) Jep is such an odd subject for the protagonist of a film because he's neither good nor bad. But I don't want to confuse his personality as neutral either. He is an active participant in moral choices, but those choices are bizarre and dramatic. He leads this very deep life, but much of its depth come from the choices that he continues to make on a moment's notice. He is neck deep in the world of art and expression, but he holds that world in a vacillating state of adoration and contempt. I'd like to think that is what Sorrentino is trying to portray with is look at what my friend calls "a version of Rome that we keep seeing that never really existed." The creator both is addicted to the world of art and sees its pretensions and artifices with everything he does. Jep has the advantage of age, which allows us to view himself through a critical lens and without being a slave to this artistic expression, unlike his peers.
The Great Beauty is the first movie that I can think of that places a higher definition on the notion of freedom. Jep is always free to do what he pleases. At one point, he claims that he is too old to waste time doing things that do not interest him. He moves from emotional balm to emotional balm, mostly in a state of contentment. But Sorrentino places a darkness within Jep. He is a man constantly in a state of regret. While he derives joy from his actions around Rome, he moves like a casual addict. He does not waste time and seems to flock to social events that somewhat seem beneath him. He mentions a line that he could have had children and the relationship he holds with the fifty-year-old stripper seems like a final attempt to bond with someone that he finds attractive in a non-sexual, yet fully healthy way. But both of these people are so jaded and find the idea of family so simple and so cheap that neither really considers giving up their nomadic existences for the calming presence of simple companionship. It becomes very binary for them. The idea of family precludes artistic freedom and artistic freedom precludes the idea of ever truly being content. I suppose I can relate to that. I keep putting off finishing a book I've been writing for years because of the kids. I suppose I really could finish the book had I wanted to, but I always feel like it is a diversion that I cannot afford with the presence of my kids. I write this, perhaps as Jep would acknowledge, at the wee hours of the morning because I have silence. This blog is acting as a bandage for the wound of creation that has festered and rotted. Jep, although he seems to be done with his professional writing, writes similarly to the way I do. He writes a column that receives a noticable readership, but not on the level that his intellectual property of his past received.
Technically, this movie is absolutely stunning. It is filmed absolutely beautifully. With the Criterion Blu-ray, it shows Rome the way that it was meant to be shown. My buddy commented that this is the Rome that never existed. It is the Rome of cinema and I don't know if I agree or disagree with him. I think this Rome exists, but it is a Rome that is very hard to find. I hate to compare it, but this is the Rome of Thomas Harris, the idealized Rome. Sorrentino has to think of this Rome as something larger than life with the closing credits of his film. Every shot shows Rome as something majestic. In my review for Lion, I commented that India has the odd dichotomy of being both the most beautiful place in the world and the ugliest place in the world. Rome has a bit of that going on, but we rarely see the ugly parts of Rome. Even in The Bicycle Thief or Rome, Open City, the city itself is gorgeous. It is the actions of individuals who taint the architecture of this world. But Rome has a personality and Sorrentino takes advantage of this with the high def camera at his disposal. Jep, in his meanderings, acts almost as a tour guide for the artistic side of Rome. No one's apartment is an apartment. None of the treasures of Rome are oppressed by tourists. There is actually a scene where someone questions how they are seeing these great works after hours and Jep simply laughs and winks, knowing a secret that we will never truly understand. This is the Rome for the intellectual Romans. To add to this landscape, the movie provides the most on point soundtracks that I have ever heard. It plays it safe, with the artistic Roman score that you are probably playing in your head right now. But it does not allow the classics to simply take over because artistic Rome is not simply classical, but it also screams techno and modern garbage. And those sounds blare. They match the colors of the lights and the aesthetics of the movie destroy.
If I had to be critical, which I suppose I do have to be, there are some themes that I don't think are thoroughly explored or I simply choose to bury my head in the sand because of who I am. The motif of Catholicism and faith comes into play pretty hard, but it seems like the criticism of the Church is pretty out there. Two (technically three if you count the nun with the sweaty palms) represent the Church and one of them acts as an overt allegory. The cardinal nearing his closeness to the papacy represents the hypocrisy of the contemporary Church. Rather than help the poor, the Cardinal stresses his knowledge of the poor while enjoying the delights of his position. The message wasn't lost on me. The question I had came to the stand-in for Mother Theresa. I might be using this silence at 1:09 in the morning to try to verbalize any themes going with this character, but I feel like the portrayal of her was meant to be scathing. But I don't know what it is critical of. The character, nicknamed "The Saint", is beyond reasonably old. At 104, she is more of a husk than a human being. Her good works, like Mother Theresa's, have brought her a kind of celebrity status that she seems to abhor. She is mostly silent, due the pain that even the slightest activities bring her. She poses for photographs with people of all cultures, standing still while a photographer moves the subjects around her. She speaks a great game and does greater works than possibly imagined. But my big question is why Sorrentio makes her uncomfortable to look at? She is Mother Theresa, I get it. But Mother Theresa, even in her last days, was never abhorrent to look at. Rather, Sorrentino pays attention to her rotting teeth and horrors of aging. Yes, aging is one of the many themes of this movie and her aging is amplified by the simplistic lifestyle she has caring for the poor while taking part in self-flagellation. Her aging is a foil to Jep, who leads a life of comfort and implied agnosticism. But why make her gross? There are ways to show extreme age without muddying the message. There has to be something there, yet I don't think I know or would agree with the director's choice. If the protagonist is an extension of the director, which I feel he must be considering the sympathetic nature that Jep manages to garner, the movie does look down on organized religion, particularly Catholicism. So are her actions foolish? I don't see the movie saying that. But it is a criticism that I don't think I can necessary follow or would necessarily choose to investigate deeper.
Without a central plot, the movie almost feels like a series of vignettes that should almost be analyzed separately. The overall tie is Jep and his very minor changes to his internal conflicts and the almost inperceivable changes to his character throughout the film. I don't know if I would ever want to be friends with Jep. He is an interesting man and a fascinating human being, but his removal from the simple aspects of life kind of puts me on edge. He lives a life of wine and chit-chat. Jep is cool, but in a way that makes him unrelatable by choice. He is above us in intellect, and that makes him below us because he can't develop a friendship on an equal level. Love is a concept to him, not a state of being and that bums me out a little bit. Regardless, the movie was an extremely interesting watch, regardless of the digital animals.
Oh, I didn't mention them? There are weird digital animals all over this movie. So bizarre.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.