thegreatbeauty_posterIf there’s one thing coming to all celebrities, it’s death. But what could be worse than that for the famous? Irrelevance.

Paolo Sorrentino’s new film, the Great Beauty, Italy’s entry for the foreign language Oscar competition, follows Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) a celebrity writer learning to come to terms with his own irrelevance, as he reaches his 65th birthday. It has been decades since he wrote his only book, the pretentiously titled “Human Apparatus.”  People still ask when he will follow it up. Meanwhile, he stays busy with celebrity interviews and parties.

Early in the film, a motley crew of party goers gathers to line dance, drink and laugh to pulsing electro beats and perky pop dance songs in celebration of Jep’s birthday. Lorena (Serena Grandi of Tinto Brass fame) bursts from a cake in the shape of the Coliseum with a number six on her right breast and five on her left. When one party goer cannot recognize the aged, rotund and boisterous woman, another party goer explains, she’s “an ex TV showgirl now in full physical and mental decline.” Both young and old mix together with a unified aspiration to both live it up and cover up their inadequacies. A group tosses a well-dressed older, female dwarf in the air.

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Anyone familiar with the filmography of Federico Fellini will find it hard to resist comparisons. Many a surreal scene peppers the film, and the transitions between scenes feel associative, as if following dream logic. Jep could easily be seen as an older version of Marcello of La Dolce Vita, who travels circles of debauchery in Rome to come to his own sublime revelation at the end of that 1960 classic, which gave popular culture the accursed term “paparazzi.”

But as the Great Beauty moves along, a sense of humanity and even dignity overshadows the decadence. We soon learn the dwarf is the wizened editor of Jep, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola). Her short stature has only allowed her a better perspective for noticing the charms of life with humor and humility. Indeed, the Great Beauty in the title of the film is not so much a reference to the opulent imagery as what lies in the gaps. It’s a tremendous film rich not only in visual splendor but also existential angst.

Sorrentino has no interest in picking up where Fellini left off. He injects his characters with a raw yearning for fulfillment and purpose. His choice to focus on older characters is far from incidental. These people don’t only want to live. There is something much bigger at stake:  they want to matter.

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Ironically, the set pieces are vibrant with color and life. The ever-drifting camera of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi practically swings through the air, zooming in and pulling out, dancing to an unheard rhythm, as if it were the film’s virtual heartbeat. It does not hurt that the ancient city of Rome, where the ruins of the Coliseum make prominent appearances, is such an inherently beautiful site to see. On an intimate level, over his bed, the recurring image of Jep’s ceiling as a vast, undulating ocean stands as symbol of rebirth, as Jep’s thoughts often drift off to find memories to reconsider his life.

Jep drinks, parties and philosophizes with fellow sixty-something celebrities and sycophants. Along the way, he refines his appreciation for those he loves and those he loathes. All around him, time seems to creep along. Nostalgia for the past bubbles up and the pressure of following up his only novel haunts him. Cornered by both the past and the future, he must ultimately come to terms with loosening control of destiny so he might find the grace he pines for.

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Servillo does a splendid job harnessing Jep’s conflicting traits of jaded, free-wheeling and vulnerable, as the film trudges along across a dynamic two-and-a-half-hour runtime that ultimately earns one of the most significant end title sequences ever committed to film. As a celebration of the visual form of cinema, this unassuming final note achieves a moment of transcendence that should be savored to the last second of its eight minutes by anyone who has learned something from the film’s brilliant finale:  It is in the moments when we live, everything else is “blah, blah, blah.”

Hans Morgenstern

The Great Beauty runs 142 minutes, is in Italian with English subtitles and is unrated (there’s drugging, drinking, fucking, loving and living). It opens in our area at the Miami Beach CinemathequeBill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables, MDCulture Art Cinema at Koubek Theater in Miami and Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood this Friday, Nov. 29.

Note: The Miami Beach Cinematheque hosted a preview screening for the purposes of this review. The MBC’s screening marks the beginning of its Italian film series “Cinema Made In Italy” that continues into April. An opening night rooftop party kicks it off at Highbar (click here for more information, including how to get into the party for free). 

For screening dates of the Great Beauty in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official website and enter your zip code.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

With the arrival of daylight saving time this Saturday, here comes a special all-night out on Miami Beach: Sleepless Night Miami Beach. Every once-in-a-while Miami Beach is not about the club scene and partying at night. On Saturday night, as the populace “falls back” an hour, South Beach will host as many as 150 cultural events during the annual 13-hour night with an event that has only happened bi-annually since 2007. It follows in a tradition that first began in Paris as Nuit Blanche.

You want to see everything that will go down, maps, details and all? Go to the event’s homepage, to download this year’s 29-page program guide. The wonderful thing about keeping up with this blog is the inside scoop that seems to fall my way. Gabó hinted at what he had planned in my interview with him (Gabriel Pulido brings soundtrack craft to the early films of Luis Buñuel). Now he has revealed what movie will form the basis of his collaboration with visual artist Buzzeye. Check out  the clip below, which demonstrates the sort of visuals that will be “wall-casted” on the Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony wall as part of the night, at 1 a.m. (the hour just before the time shift, so be aware):

The music and re-mixing of dialogue is Gabo’s handiwork, while the film was “deconstructed” and “colorized” by Buzzeye. I’m sure I need not mention the Italian classic’s title to readers of this blog.

I also received a phone call from Carl Ferrari, who will perform his hybrid jazz-Flamenco style with dancer Ana Miranda, at the start of the evening, at 6 p.m., on the second floor of the Miami Beach Public Library, another nice piece of architecture in itself. I wrote about him here: Happy re-birth day to Miami-based musician Carl Ferrari.

Throughout the night, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will actually project outside its venue, on to the surrounding buildings from all seven of its giant windows. The looping film project, Sonámbula by Dinorah de Jesús Rodriguez, will start projecting at 9 p.m. As the MBC calendar event space describes: the images are culled from “classic vintage film imagery that addresses the topic of sleeplessness or insomnia and the magical phenomenon of sleepwalking. Snippets from such classics as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari will mingle with recurring images of giant eyes that blink with the electrifying movement created by hand-scratching on the imagery and the mechanical whirring of several 16mm projectors.” A few months back, the MBC’s director, Dana Keith, and I had chatted about how cool it would be to have the famous 24-hour film the Clock play inside the venue, but that was not going to happen (the night is 13 hours, after all, not 24).

Of course, that’s just a taste of the scores of events (and I am sure there will be plenty of unofficial ones) happening that night. All events are FREE and start at 6 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. with a free breakfast on the beach for those who can survive the 13-hour night.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)