Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Great Beauty (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Great Beauty

Paulo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place) gives us a rich feast of a film that will remind many of Fellini, but also has markings of Barbet Schroeder's edgy and existential "Our Lady of the Assassins."

Here too, in "The Great Beauty", we have an aging writer, Jep (Toni Servillo) who dresses like an old Matador of Hedonism in a pristine Panama hat. He wanders the streets very much a part of 21st century Rome in his waking life, but he also slopes about as a tired wolf in a dream by Dali, lost in heavy reveries, watching nuns and priests go through their routine tasks. As catholic as his daylight meanderings are, by night he is crushed by the lust and fat of wanton flesh at a dance club. Sometimes Jep smiles lightly but often he is pained, gulping air like some exotic pinstriped fish, bereft of water.

The author slowly smolders with thoughts of his young ego. His contemporaries nip and jab at him asking him if or when he plans to write another novel as he did decades ago?

Jep is now a journalist covering party after party and endless art openings, all with dubious impact on him.

Day after day, he takes strolls through Rome while his innermost mind is vexed by the loss of his first love, reason unknown. The girl who rebuffed his kiss but also tantalized him with a lure stands as a benevolent medusa to him like The Mona Lisa or Dali's Gala. Jep's love is a siren of shadows and rocks. She is often pictured in heavy blue light among some churning surf.

Perhaps to provoke, or to ignite his imagination, Jep takes a casual lover, the nonchalant escort Ramona (Sabrina Ferrilli). Each party they seem to attend appears more fleshy than the last, and the author's friends continue to taunt and cajole him, sometimes nastily.

Jep waits for the moment when he finally drifts to sleep and a bright blue sea appears on his bedroom ceiling.

When Ramona abruptly dies, the author feels unhinged for a second time and once again drifts in close orbit with papal personages, specifically an eerie and intimidating centenarian Saint (Giusi Merli). No one knows what to say to The Saint who despite her tremendous frailty, has a psychic hold on nearly everyone. Although aged and immobile, she swings her feet in a childlike way.

Jep's response to The Saint is indifferent. Perhaps she knows of his youthful licentiousness, but then again, perhaps not. She sleeps next to him on the hard floor curled like the letter C. Struck by curiosity, he questions an exorcist priest (Roberto Herlitzka) and receives only a distracted mumble.

In one scene, the frightening Saint holds court with a flamboyance of flamingoes. She exhales towards them and the birds instantly take flight. In another, Jep witnesses a huge giraffe that just as quickly vanishes when the author's back is turned.

Jep, like a Mediterranean cypher is able to float through many realms and scenarios, almost anonymously. In the company of humans, he absorbs the infinite to and fro passively with eventuality, while his interior is eaten up with the enfant terrible he once was and the man he is at present.

"The Great Beauty" contains a true carnival of souls with many visual quotes that rival any literary tale of magical realism. The city of Rome is a character in itself as exotic and seamy as a leatherette bestiary.

Here you will find a banquet of poetic vibrations and varied tones, where a Cardinal is just as wild and oddly out of place as a pagan-beaked flamingo. No resident, be he footed or feathered, holds any exclusive weight.

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