Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Great Beauty

(La grande bellezza, Italy, France, 2013)

This movie is very colorful, and it is full of compelling images, like a giraffe in an empty courtyard at night. Some truly awesome images. A furious little girl hurling cans of paint at a giant canvas as “art critics” stand around and watch. Her paintings sell for millions. Another piece of performance “art”: a naked woman runs and hurls herself into a stone wall (actually Styrofoam), then yells something at her audience. A 103-year-old nun, called a saint by everybody, painfully ascending a stone stair way on her knees. A blue-haired dwarf (who reminded me powerfully of Judy Lynn Del Ray, one of the most influential SF editors of her day) wandering around in the remains of a big party. A room full of people whose faces are showing a lot of road wear, waiting to pay 700 Euros for botox injections.

And that’s about all I can say good about it. I am saddened to report that this movie won the Best Foreign Language Oscar for 2013. We have now seen three of the five nominees, and both of the others (The Hunt and The Broken Circle Breakdown) were better than this. Lots better.

What we have here is, basically, recycled Fellini. Everyone has noticed this, of course, but most critics label it a homage to Federico. I call it copying, and by somebody not nearly as talented, and not at all ground-breaking, as Italian cinema was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It will remind you powerfully of La dolce vita, 8½, and Juliet of the Spirits. It takes place in Roma, and everyone in it is a pretentious fraud, the sort who party hard and self-consciously, as if always aware they are being photographed. They sit around discussing art and other topics, and no one has anything interesting to say until one of them verbally dissects another. People like this bore me cross-eyed.

The protagonist is a man who has just turned sixty-five. We see him at a long and boring birthday party held on the terrace of his huge apartment, which overlooks the Colosseum. I mean, it’s right on top of it. The mind boggles at how expensive the place must be. One wonders, was he born rich (it doesn’t seem so) or does magazine writing in Italy pay incredible wages? He is a writer who wrote one book forty years ago, and has spent the rest of his time on Earth interviewing the beautiful and empty people who make up the art and fashion worlds of Italy. If he really regrets this, he doesn’t show much of it. He drifts along for a while and meets a large number of grotesques, and then it’s over. I wish I had my two-and-a-half hours back.