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Just realized : One of my favourite recent films, #LaGrandeBellezza (The Great Beauty) (2013) to-morrow at @CamPicturehouse at 1.00...— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) November 2, 2015
Revisiting this film, and finding little that Peter Bradshaw (in the handed-out text of his review) says to illuminate it (although, at least, he just waffles, without wasting time telling the story), one is struck by the amount of death, as well as of life, in it (and by the unnecessary literalness with which it may have been viewed before) : death breaks through and, falsifying Jep Gambardella’s (Toni Servillo’s) standard, cynical take on funerals, forces him to feel something, and shows him doing so to Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli). Dream also breaks in*, and whereas it may have seemed discrete during previous viewings, there is probably more of a blurred, intermediate quality to much of what is shown, which may extend to whether flamingos really do flock and rest on Gambardella’s balcony, and a nun, said to be 104 years old and about to be sanctified, really does fall asleep on his floor ?
Likewise this conversation between her and Gambardella :
Sa perché mangio sempre radici ?
No. Perché ?
Perché le radici sono importanti.
[Does he know why she always eats roots (40 grammes per day, we are told, when she is in Mali) – because roots are important.]
In narration, Gambardella tells us that he has already, just after his sixty-fifth birthday, realized that he is no longer going to spend time on what he does not need to do – so, he disappears before Orietta can show him her photographs of herself, in which he had perhaps felt himself drawn to feign interest. What he seems to show genuine interest in, and to be moved by, is a photographic installation in an architectural space – instinctively, we may sense that what we see of the installation may have been virtually imposed on the space, but, as we track across the images, we can feel Gambardella’s connection with this theme (even if it might link with Orietta’s self-obsessed Facebook-oriented one ?), and its relation to the past.
Seeing a film of this quality again is itself an unfolding against one’s uncertain recollections of what comes next (just as Gambardella falters, trying to recall a precious memory), and we have our own Where does that scene fit in with… ? and When does Santa Maria appear… ?, partly tempered by what one remembers the central message to have been, and whether it seems different this time : does it all fit in, or is it only re-emerging in response to one’s memory ? Perhaps losing momentum only momentarily with the child-artist (which, this time around, is maybe one parody too far ?), and what had previously seemed magical in Stefano’s possessing, as a trustworthy person, keys to view Rome’s treasures by night, but which now seems part of Gambardella’s gift to the younger woman, to engage with her, and to show her his life.
Whether one wants to see the ending of the film as looping on the beginning, and having (as Bradshaw suggests) teller converge on tale (as if Gambardella finally follows up his novel[ette] The Human Apparatus), seems immaterial, because we have seen hard-bitten Gambardella come to a realization about himself. We have been with him when he tracked down a man, Ramona's father, who had been kind to him, and seen him remember his formative moments and what matters (so that the past enters the present in a bar, and Romano, who says that Gambardella is the only person from whom he sees the need to take his leave on his departure, finds him just before a giraffe is made to vanish), and the coda, silent of speech, remains as strong and significant as before, coasting up to and past Castel Sant’Angelo.
Alongside and within all of this, the principal, gracious thematic material by Lele Marchitelli (which first colours the night-time tour of the palaces), and the use of Arvo Pärt’s My Heart’s in the Highlands and John Tavener’s The Lamb. These pieces of music are an immediate and necessary part of the conception of the whole : in those two settings (of Burns and Blake, respectively) – as well as opening the film a capella with David Lang's ‘I Lie’ (whose work we also hear in Sorrentino's Youth (2015)) – the voices cut through with rawness and intensity, and flood our hearts and souls with feeling.
The most exquisite, dream-like image, partly because Gambardella's writerly life-style has him awake in the night, is an uncredited cameo-role for Fanny Ardant : he recognizes her personage as she passes, speaks her name, and she fleetingly acknowledges him, before passing on and away.
A serenity and poise at quite the other end of the scale from the vulgarity of the vibrant birthday-party, after which Gambardella asks not to be woken till 3.00 p.m., and from the Martini sign, which usurps both the sun's place, by rising over the remains of the party (and his editor's slumped form, who seems to have been overlooked, since she tries to alert people that she is there), and that of the moon, by looming over the head of the boulevard that he descends...
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)