Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At the cinema

I tend to agree with the current mantra that television has supplanted movies as the dominant art form of our time. But not always. This afternoon I took in the spectacular Italian film "La Grande Bellezza." 

Set in contemporary Rome, this work rivals, maybe even surpasses Fellini's take on the city of fifty years ago. The central character is a vapid, but still knowing man-about-town, "Gep" Gabardella. (Gep is an shortened form of Geppetto, the woodcarver who created Pinocchio - implying that the people in the film are all simulacra, like Pinocchio.) Once Gep (who is now 65) was a serious novelist; but now he is reduced to working as a kind of gossip columnist. He knows everyone in high-society in the city. All these people are well-tanned, coifed, and groomed, but their conversation consists solely of platitudes and absurdities. Here is one: "Rome is now so decadent that the only true Romans are the tourists." 

 The last segment is devoted to what at first seems the greatest phony of them all, "La Santa" Suor Maria, a withered old hag, ostensibly 104 years old, who has devoted her life to the poor in third-world countries (an obvious knock-off of Mother Teresa). But maybe Suor Maria is not a phony after all, but the real thing, for at the end we see her laboriously climbing the stairs of the Scala Santa on her knees. This remarkable film is both highly local and possibly quite general: a mirror for the society we inhabit. I recommend it heartily.