Deep (deep) into The Great Beauty, deeper than possible in most, as this is just an extraordinarily long movie, a character stands on a stage and says that it’s the end of August, and it feels like September may never come. And I sat there watching this on September 1st like god damn, I’ve done it again. Near calendar-perfect, you are welcome @ myself.
Maybe on some level I had sensed the last weekend of August was the time for The Great Beauty (“La grande bellezza“), because I knew it opens with a man in fancy Rome celebrating his 65th birthday, and the rest is an impressionistic sort of mosaic of him going about his life considering the idea of his own and also the concept in general. And what better time than the slowly drawn end of summer for that, the waning gold light and drowsy melancholy of a warmth that is due to turn, that should turn. Perhaps we’ve been too long in the sun. It’s still warm and butter yellow now, but the shadows at dusk are going blue. As Jep’s face at the end, intermittently, gently lit by the sweep of the lighthouse lamp, doused in the blue of the night.
But if you’d asked me, the reason I was watching The Great Beauty now, about five years since my roommate in New York had told me about it, was because the trailer for The New Pope dropped this week, and I was hopped up on Paolo Sorrentino again. I love the way he and his cinematographer he always works with set up shots, this living tableau quality that gets me every time. I love the way he deploys songs, the music direction always just killer, integral to the art of the work, in way where I mean it as a compliment when I say that Sorrentino basically makes very long very good music videos. The Great Beauty shares far more in common with something like Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson’s Anima than it does most feature length releases. It’s not that Sorrentino can’t plot—The Young Pope speaks to just how very much he can, so much story in so few episodes and somehow never feeling rushed. Plot and action just wasn’t the focus in The Great Beauty, he was building a movie out of other things. Visuals and sound and contemplation.
It is too long, not because of the length itself, but because the Saint storyline that meanders through the last half hour feels too much like a new thread, and over an hour and forty-five minutes in is too late to introduce another chapter. At that point you begin to wonder if you’re in a rare sexagenarian picaresque, a thousand-page Candide unspooling over hours, which is fine if you just know that’s what you’re getting yourself into. As is, either it should have been even longer and a miniseries, or stay a movie and just trim off that last stepping stone, keeping this at maybe an hour fifty? That seems fine for its pace and purpose. Do keep the interlude with the artist with the pictures of himself every day from childhood to now, because it unexpectedly moved me to sudden, overcome tears. I wept and wept. Art, man! All the things of Great Beauty.