I’m very pleased to have got the chance to see two films that I missed last year. The first was The Great Beauty seen last week-end as part of the Italian Film Festival at ACMI. I was expecting it to be beautiful to watch but suspected some tedium might be involved. But that wasn’t the case at all. I loved everything about it. The beautiful cinematography was just glorious – every scene a work of art. The music elevating the visual splendor to even greater spiritual heights. But it was the lead character – Jep Gambardella – and the conversations and experiences he had with the other characters that really engaged me. The whole film was about the great existential question – what’s the meaning of life? What do our puny efforts to make it meaningful – through work, art, friend, loves – add up to when we look back. Shades of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In the acerbic look at the lives of the idle rich – fantastic, Gatsbyesque party scenes. In the lingering shots of Rome’s ancient, gracious, palaces, monuments and pieces of art, not mention vistas of the city itself. A sense of carnivale in the crazy characters – Jep’s short statured publisher, the crazy performance artist (shades of Marina Abramovic), the Mother Theresa figure. Some memorable, surreal images – a giraffe amongst Roman ruins, storks on Jep’s balcony. Italy’s sacred shibboleths – the church, the mafia, fashion, cooking – gently mocked. Under the hedonistic lifestyle there was a kinder, more humanistic message. About the importance of friendship, the enduring poignancy of first love (beautiful flashbacks to the young (handsome) Jep), and, at the end, the thought that, despite it all, what we do, how we live and conduct ourselves does matter. Over it all, lay a pervasive sense of melancholy. I loved Jep’s observation; After sixty five you don’t bother doing anything you don’t want to do. Something to aspire to. And a mystery at the end – was this film in fact the second novel, long awaited but not forthcoming, from our hero? Here is the trailer.
This week we got to see Ida which was being shown again at the Nova because it won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars last week. (The Great Beauty won that award last year). I loved this film too. But what a contrast to the Italian film. All in black and white – and long stretches of silence. But the same fantastic cinematography. Moody and evocative. Mysterious. Set in Poland some time in the 1950s I think. Ida is a novice about to take final vows but is sent off to meet her Aunt. Who turned out to be Wanda. A hard drinking, chain smoking, wisecracking modern woman. She’s a judge – a hero of the resistance. Ida’s visit takes her back to a hidden, painful past. A road trip to find the graves of Aida’s parents takes them deep into the dark heart of Polish history. Last seen by me in Claude Lanzmann’s masterpiece Shoah. Here you come at it slowly, obliquely but in the end it’s all shockingly direct. Very moving. I felt it lost it’s zing when Wanda departed a little bit before the end. Essentially it asks the same question as The Great Beauty – why are we here. Ida murmurs to the young man who asks her to travel with him to the beach But after that what would we do? and when he suggests the usual things – marriage, family, work – she murmurs again But what then?Here is the trailer.