Text by – STEFANO GRASSINI
Translation by – FEDERICO SCARFO’
Italian Version: http://revolart.it/la-grande-bellezza/
“It is all stratified under the chatter and the noise, the silence and the feeling, the emotion and the fear, the meagre, inconstant bursts of beauty, and then the disgraceful wretchedness and the miserable man.”
The blinding beauty of Rome, mystical panorama of excess, refined and corroded. Baroque and minimalist, empty. The eternal city, the slack stream of the Tiber is the paradigm of roman life, her souls, the religious, the political, the intellectual, the criminal, have met and clashed for millennia in this city of appearance. The city of thànatos, fusion of mors, anagram of amor. The undisputed protagonist, the leit motiv of Sorrentino’s new movie is her, the capital of the empire, holy city, unquestioned emblem of the people struck by the “dolce vita” fever. The thousand shards of “The Great Beauty” mirror the diseased city, the leper wastes anyone who caresses her luxury, woman with provocative curves, sick with AIDS. Sorrentino’s characters are archetypes, like some Plautus ’caricatures. How not to see in the eyes of Jep Gambardella, the same, unmistakable, Toni Servillo, the same melancholy, the same unsatisfaction, the same awareness of a Petronius Arbiter? Wrapped in the noisy and shallow life of the high-ranking Rome, he is the only one who can soar above it, judge it, disown it, and then dash onto her muddy surface, being dragged into the slums of the Cloaca without getting dirty. Guest of honor, master of style, for forty years he has been preparing his way out of the scene, but keeps basking in an artifact and polluted world, which crowned him unquestioned emperor. Petronius lengthens his permanence in the world of living cutting open his veins, wrapping and unwrapping them with bandage in order to slow the blood stream. So his way out of the scene, compelled, happens slowly, is painless. Jep is imperceptibly taking his distance from what his life has been for forty years: “When I arrived at Rome, I was twenty-six, I fell in quite a short time, almost without acknowledging it, in what could be defined “the whirlwind of mundanity”. But I didn’t want to be just mundane, I wanted to become the King of the mundane, I didn’t want to just participate to parties, I wanted the power to make them fail.” Encounters, unwanted episodes, everything in the movie is functional in its preparing the adieu of the protagonist to the scene, a long suffering that will make his second novel come to life, The Great Beauty.
The demiurge Sorrentino perhaps identifies himself with this man whose fate has been marked by a deep sense of humanity, for too much time, for too long, hidden, intoxicated, raped by an ambition tending to the low. On the background, the roman society, the neronian court, a bustle of courtesans, automatons, denatured monads, the vital flame in them was born extinguished, they enter the scene already defeated, they voluntarily disperse the viewer, they overlap perspectives. Sorrentino traces a saturated fresco of the surroundings, conscientiously leads his audience on the road to the aesthetic of the blindness: Henri Matisse, in 1910, upset the Parisians and the collector Scukin with a painting now resting at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, The Music. A ten squared meters wide canvas, represents five musicians, turned towards the observer, whose lobster-red figures stand out bidimensionally on a green and blue background, simple and annoying. An overall vision is impeded to the observer, the figures of the musicians capture the glance with their bright color, their hieratic standing out, and on the other hand, they do not allow being stared at singularly, strong as it is the call of the background. So, “figures and background erase each other” (Y. Bois, Arte dal 1900). Hasn’t Sorrentino carried out the same operation? An overall vision in fact is impossible, the single episodes are too powerful, even if often they are involved. In the same way, it is useless to try to grasp the movie analyzing its diverse fragments, it is as if, once glued together the shards, the vase kept dripping water. In this way the director, among Petronius and Tacitus, among Fellini (that would mean the Fellini of La Dolce Vita, the Fellini of the Satyricon appears in few dreamy passages) and Visconti, heads toward dicotomically between the “cafonal” and the aulic, between parties and funerals, walks his way through the onanism of a degrading caste, intoxicated, passing from a cocaine-addicted Serena Grandi to nuns devoted to esthetic surgery, to hearty eating cardinals, lovers of good food.
Blinking, almost smothered, appears the beauty. In a cloister, in a stripper, in a giraffe. The beauty of escaping, the beauty of remembrance, the beauty of a madman. The seeming lack of a fil rouge within the movie is a synonym of life, so many times annihilating in his senselessness. Maybe the direction wanted to present an existentialist metaphor? Could our Jep be none other than an Antoine Ronquetin? The hardest climb is the one that gives a smile, that which stands out there where beauty is most tiring to reach.