Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Great Beauty

Jepp is 66. When he was young he wrote a novel which was critically acclaimed and won prizes. Now, he is, what we in India call, a Page 3 journalist. He literally owns the night. He says he doesn’t know what to do with the mornings. He did not write another novel because he was looking for the great beauty and did not find it. What he found was assorted amusements and a host of interesting people, mostly women, most of whom are his mistresses.

Now, however, he is lost. He is moving away from his friends and Rome itself, his muse, his raison d'etre, has changed. But, he cannot do anything about it. This is the only life he knows.

In the next two hours, things will change for Jeep. He will fall in love and he will lose love. And, in an extraordinarily moving scene, he will learn where to find The Great Beauty. A toothless nun, a saint, tells him: “Do you know why I only eat roots? Because roots are important?”

More than a movie, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013) is more like a languid dream. If you have never seen Italy, the film can offer you some fantastic views of the great city, its buildings and especially its museums. And, the city in the night! But, Sorrentino’s Rome is not the literal Rome. What we see here is what Jepp sees, a city of people, with streets wide open. There are really few cars on the roads since Jepp doesn’t drive.

There are a host of characters and sometimes they just come and go, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. And the movie is long. Yet, the end result of watching this film is like climbing a hill, at the end of which you feel exhilarated. The film has been compared to Felini’s La Dolce Vita. But movies are about society journalists and Rome and seeing lives from the outside. Yet, The Great Beauty is not a copy of Felini. It can stand on its own right, and proudly so.

The film premiered in Cannes and has been short listed for the Oscar for foreign language film. It has more than an outside chance to win the statuette, and it would be a right decision. (But, this year, I am also rooting for Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster to win the honour, which I doubt it would.)

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