© 2014 by James Clark
What can we bring to an ambitious film masking its ambitions in many ways? This question becomes especially pressing in face of the ultra-sophistication inherent in an order of modern Italian cinema, generally perceived to be inexorably receding into oblivion. The peculiarities of such a dilemma might never have staged a counter-thrust without the deft cinematic archaeology of Paolo Sorrentino as disclosed in his film from 2013, The Great Beauty.
It will take a while to lucidly get to the point of such a unique tangle; and as good a beginning as any would be a passage, near the work’s outset, where a celebrity journalist attends a display of site-specific performance art on the outskirts of Rome. Along with a few dozen middle-aged Gran Tourismo drivers and a clutch of academics having put through precious, runic (spring solstice?) paces their expensively educated young children, the writer, Jep, beholds a nude woman (with a hammer and sickle trim of her red-dyed pubic hair), her head covered by a veil, sprint headlong into an ancient stone pillar of the aqueduct defining the space, after which she lies on the ground, bleeding through that veil, and then gets back on her feet, announcing to the shaken audience, “I don’t love you!” But now having passed beyond that, and given her a couple of noncommittal claps of applause, Jep proceeds to interview her, the late sun having finally (iconically?) set. He interrupts the swarthy, bruised sensation of the moment, to protest her referring to herself in the third person, an inflating of her specifics in art-prissy terms of “The Talin Concept.” The unsmooth, rather rustic toiler, a far cry from Jep’s unmistakable urbanity, gallops into the infelicitous harangue, “I don’t need to read. I live on vibrations. The pattern of vibrations cannot be supported by the vulgarity of words.” When Jep registers his sense that that tangent is passé (“You can’t charm me with things like this…”), she retorts, “I’m starting to dislike this interview. You’re an ass!” (It may come about that she herself is one of a surprisingly viable herd of asses.) After arguing, the picture of reasonableness, “I want to know what a vibration is… Lives on vibrations, but doesn’t know what a vibration is…” Jep thinks to put her in her place by patronizingly informing her that he works for a journal that has “a core of cultivated readers” who are beyond being “taken as fools.” She backs down from this chastisement, quietly stating, “It’s a difficult journey for an artist…” But she signs off with the more energetic protest, “You’re an obsessive jerk!” (more…)