Paolo Sorrentino


(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Paolo Sorrentino

L'Uomo in Piu` / One Man Up (2001)

Le Conseguenze dell'Amore/ The Consequences of Love (2004)

L'Amico di Famiglia/ The Family Friend (2006)

mediocre This Must Be the Place (2011)

On the surface, La Grande Bellezza/ The Great Beauty (2013) feels like a version of Fellini's La Dolce Vita for the age of the eurocrisis. The peripatetic protagonist is apparently a shallow socialite but in reality a hermetic tormented soul trying to navigate a labyrinthine Dantesque inferno. At a deeper level the film feels like an elegiac and nostalgic gesture for a whole decayed civilization. It deals with the mortality of individuals as much as it deals with the mortality of civilizations. It is the combination of history (a ubiquitous presence in the palaces and churches and squares of the various scenes) and of orgies that the film acquires its semiotic power. It is a tour de force of interacting symbols, the greatest and ultimate one being the juxtaposition of the saint crawling up towards paradise and of the degenerate socialite sailing away from his hell. The loneliness of the protagonist is self-evident as he wanders around his own city, never truly finding a place to settle in, indifferent to the spectacles of contemporary culture and instead morbidly fascinated by deviated behavior (be it the stripper or the saint), and haunted by the memory of his teenage crush. The formal element adds another layer of interpretation: the visual and acting elegance contrasts with the sense of decay, as if elevating the collapse of civilization and of individual meaning to a role model of composure and dignity that perhaps the rising civilizations lack.

A group of Japanese tourists is visiting Rome when suddenly one of them collapses to the ground. There's a big luxurious party going on to celebrate the birthday of an aging writer, Jep (Egidio). There are gorgeous girls and pole dancers. There are also lascivious older men and gossiping middle-aged women. In the morning Jep walks alone through the streets of Rome and is observed by a child dressed in religious clothes from the gate of a convent. Jep lives alone with a foreign maidservant in a villa facing the Colosseum. He watches a naked woman running against the massive pillar of a Roman aqueduct in front of a silent crowd. It is an action-painting performance. He has been sent by a magazine to interview the artist, but he quickly realizes that the artist is a fake and ends up making her cry. His boss at the magazine, the dwarf Dadina, is nonetheless ecstatic about his satirical expose of the pretentious artist. They are old friends and she reproaches him for not having fullfilled his potential as a writer. One of his friends, Romano, who is eternally trying to have sex with a gorgeous young girl and also is eternally penniless, has an idea to write a book about Jep, but Jep declines the offer. However, Jep has found a business opportunity for his friend. Jep wrote a book 40 years earlier, "The Human Apparatus", that won a prestigious literary award, but nothing else. He migles with toy salesman Lello, silent poet Sebastiano and fabulously dressed and suntanned women. Romano offers the lead role of his non-existent production to his current target, a pretentious actress who now wants to become a filmmaker. They discuss life in Rome. Lello is extremely pessimistic. Jep agrees that "the best people in Rome are the tourists" but is not quite as negative. They gossip about common friends of the high society. Late at night Jep, now 65 years old, walks with Orietta, a sexy miggle-aged woman from Milan, who claims "being rich" as her job. They cross one of Rome's most famous squares. Nobody is around. They make love at her place and she apologizes for not being skilled at sex. In the morning he takes a walk by himself along the river and meditates about his own life, spent trying to become the ultimate socialite. Then suddenly a stranger shows up. His name is Alfredo and he introduces himself as Elisa's husband. He cries telling Jep that Elisa died. It starts raining and Alfredo, still crying, begs Jep for help. Alfredo was married to Elisa for 35 yars. Elisa was Jep's girlfriend in their youth. When she died, Alfredo found out her diary and realized that she always and only loved her first love, Jep. And Jep's memory briefly dwells on those happy days. A woman is looking for her daughter Francesca. Jep finds her hiding inside a Renaissance monument and she tells him: "you are nobody". Meanwhile, Romano, is planning his theatrical masterpiece. Jep visits him at the room that Romano rents in a student dormitory.
The same friends meet over and over again: Romano worships Jep as one of the greatest writers ever; Stefania instead, a Marxist intellectual, thinks that his novel was pretentious and mediocre; Sebastiano listens without saying a word; Lello is uncomfortable and his wife falls asleep; Jep accuses Stefania of being false and fragile; she is 53-years old, she came to prominence in her party because she was the lover of the chief, but she has been a bad mother. Jep calmly states that all of them live on the brink of despair. Stefania leaves speechless and later swims naked in a swimming pool.
Jep walks alone, again, in the streets of Rome. He sees foreign tourists. He visits a friend he hasn't seen in twenty years, who runs a strip club. One of the strippers is his daughter Ramona, eternally broke, who still strips for money at the age of 42. The father is worried for her, and asks Jep to help her find a rich husband. He meets her briefly, she's hostile. He feels old and walks out, alone again in the dark streets of Rome.
Jep attends a session in which a high-tech charlatan administers very expensive shots to the people who believe in him, while a secretary collects their fees. Among his customers is even a nun. Jep observes and says nothing.
During a lunch date with Ramona he is approached by mad young man Andrea, son of his friend and widow Viola. Back at home he chats with Ramona about her first love and asks her how she spends her money, but she refuses to answer. There's a mystery in her life. The following night Jep is invited at a private party and he shows up with Ramona, who wears a sexy revealing dress. The host of the rich extravaganza is Lillo, one of the most celebrated art collectors. Romano is still trying to seduce the pretentious actress. They all dance in the fancy gardens. Then a little girl performs an art piece that consists in randomly and angrily throwing paint on a vast blank canvas. She's actually a famous artist, and already a millionaire, despite being still a child. Jep recognizes an old friend, Stefano, who always carries a case with him. The case contains keys to the great palaces of Rome. He is live a doorman for the most aristocratic families. Stefano takes Jep and Ramona to some of the palaces, vast empty places that contain artistic masterpieces. At dawn the trio is still walking through surreal gardens.
Then suddenly Jep is alone in an empty lobby, meditating loud on funerals: a funeral is the ultimate mundane event. Meanwhile, Ramona is trying different formal dresses. It turns out there is indeed a funeral, and he was just rehearsing what to do: Viola's son Andrea has committed suicide. Jep, Romano and other friends carry the coffin out of the church, and Jep cannot help breaking his own rule of never crying at a funeral, perhaps aware that soon it will be his turn. Finally Jep and Ramona have sex. Finally she tells him her secret: she spends all her money in medicines. And suddenly she is dead: we see her father crying at a cafe and people pay him condolences for the loss of his daughter.
Jep visits Arturo, who is a magician and keeps a gyraffe in a giant warehouse. Romano finds him there and tells him that he decided to quit on the eve of his premiere: he's going back to his hometown. When Jep looks at the gyraffe again, it is gone: Arturo has made it disappeared. Jep visits Alfredo and asks whether Elisa's diary explains why she dumped him back then. Apparently, the thought has haunted him all the time. Alfredo doesn't know the answer and has thrown away the diaries. Alfredo already has a new girl, Polina.
Jep attends yet another classy party with loud thumping music. Jep is annoyed by the fauna of his parties, but that's his life. Friends gossip that Viola is donating everything to the church.
A man invies Jep to take a look at his manic exhibition: his father started taking a picture a day of him, and then he continued. The exhibition is of those thousands of pictures of him, one per day.
At another party, this time outdoors and in broad daylight, Lello introduces Jep to a cardinal, who is being asked about a saint. Jep is about to ask him something about the soul but the cardinal gets distracted by another guest. Jep dances with Stefania: they are still good friends, despite the argument.
Back in his villa Jep witnesses the arrest of his mysterious neighbor: it turns out he is one of the most wanted mafia bosses. Before being taken away the sinister boss discusses the best tailors of Rome and accuses Jep of being a useless parasite while he, the mafia man, is a hard-working man.
The 104-year-old saint, who looks like a mummy and is hardly coherent, arrives at Rome, causing create emotions in the religious people who have come from all over the world to kiss her hand. The cardinal announces that he will have dinner with the saint, and the host will be no less than the writer Jep. The dinner is for a few intimate friends. The saint, Maria, complains that they make her sleep in a hotel: she is not used to sleep in a bed! The dwarf Dadina wants Jep to interview the saint, an old fan of Jep's only novel, but the saint refuses: poverty is something to be lived, not to be talked about. The cardinal, instead, is a vain and mundane being, who loves to talk about recipes and little else. At the end of the dinner, when the cardinal is about to leave in his limo, Jep approaches an whispers a question: he wants to know whether the cardinal is an exorcist. The cardinal gives him his blessing in Latin and drives away. The saint disappears. They cannot find her anywhere in the villa's gardens. Jep finds her sleep on the floor of his bedroom. In the morning she asks him why he never wrote a second book. He replies that he was looking for the great beauty and he never found it. She tells him that she only eats roots because they are important. Then she makes a sound and all the birds fly away. Then she crawls on her knees up a holy staircase, while Jep is sailing in the sea and thinks of his first love. Jep has decided to write a new novel.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )