domenica 16 marzo 2014

Why “La Grande Bellezza” makes one film critic uneasy

Rome may be teetering on the brink of financial ruin, but today, after La Grande Bellezza took home the Oscar for Best Foreign film, the ancient capital is basking in Hollywood’s glow--a glow whose effects could be seen here rainy Turin, where the win gave La Stampa’s film critic Raffaella Silipo a fleeting sense of pride.
After many years we are finally recognized. That is the first thing to say,” Silipo said, speaking from her desk inside the newsroom. Silipo credits the success of the film to its universal themes: “The problem with Italian cinema in the years past is that we made films that were closed, that told very intimate stories that were particular to our moment of our country. This film speaks in a more universal language, a language that tells of strong contrasts. Of exceptional beauty and moral decay, of the richest part of the city but a part that has also passed, of tradition without vitality and a sense of joy for the future. This may not have a lot of worth in America but it is worth a lot in Europe.”
At the same time, this “universal language” has cast a shadow over Silipo’s view of the film. Earlier today, in an editorial meeting, she criticized it as being “made for a foreign audience” and compared it to “Cinema Paradiso,” which in 1989 was also awarded an Oscar. “In Cinema Paradiso, everything was perfect, a proper postcard of Italy, a little Sicilian village after the war,” Silipo says. Speaking of Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of Sorrentino’s film, played by Toni Servillo, Silipo said, “While he’s not your typical stereotype, like spaghetti, he does represent a type of Italian that is elegant, cynical, indecisive. The type of Italian that abroad is imagined in various ways.” The type of Italian evokes as much nostalgia and desire as the center of Rome itself, whose presence in the film is a captivating force. In one scene, after a tourist takes a photograph of a sunset panorama, he falls to the ground in a faint, overcome by heat or beauty.
Reality is harsher. Even though 10 milliontourists visit Rome every year, the city has been hard pressed to turn its beauty into profit. An 816 million euro budget gap looms over Italy’s ancient capital. There are more and more have-nots. While Jep lives next door to The Colosseum, 80% of the city’s actual 2.6 million inhabitants live far away from the storied monuments, in peripheral suburbs where inadequate public transportation forces many to endure gruelling, multi-hour commutes. While Jep’s baby-boomer friends gyrate their hips through the night, more than 40% of Italy’s youth remain unemployed. Some have compared the baroqueness of La Grande Bellezza’s style to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Silipo would disagree. She criticizes the film for lacking a central message, for being elite and impressionistic. And yet, it cuts to the heart. “In Fellini’s years there was the enthusiasm of the 1960s, the boom. Those years represent the enthusiasm of Italians. Sorrentino has created a film that has no vitality, no vision of the future.”
To that end, Silipo’s favorite scene in La Grande Bellezza does not depict a moment of pride or grandeur, but of discovery and transition. It occurs when Jep and his lover--a beautiful, older stripper played by Sabrina Ferili --take a walk through the city. Skipping the well-known monuments, they tour hidden gardens and quiet palazzos as twilight slowly descends. “It is very melancholy, the hour when it’s not quite night,” Silipo explains. “Later, when we discover that she dies, it is a little salute to a vanishing world.”

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