I saw Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” last night. It was fitting that it was shown in the late evening. After all, the party was just getting started – Jep, the jaded protagonist, was celebrating his 65th birthday. No, “The Great Beauty” is not an updated version of “La Dolce Vita”, although Rome, debauchery and strangeness appear just as they did in Fellini. Mind you, they did in Nero’s time as well.
Jep is a more social version of Proust. Not just observing the decadent society around him, but partaking in the decadence. He realizes he’s come to an age where he no longer has to do the things he doesn’t want to do.
“The Great Beauty” is an experience for the senses. Beautiful clothes, beautiful art, beautiful landscape – an overload of beauty. No worry, it’s counterbalanced by the bizarre. And the aged Saint provides a nice contrast to the taut, botoxed Roman Zoomers.
But it’s melancholy too. Jep is smart enough to feel his emptiness. He knows he is capable of more, but can he will himself to recapture the promise of his youth?
There are scenes of Jep and his crowd dancing. No ageism in the hedonistic Rome. The middle-aged, the old can boogie just as well as the young, among the young. Can be just as silly. Dancing as a ritual, drug or maybe an escape.
Today I saw a less privileged, female version of Jep. Happier one too, despite life playing tricks on her. “Gloria” is a small film, made by a young Chilean director.
Gloria is in her late fifties, divorced and still working. She is ordinary. A bit lonely, she goes dancing in a club for older people (this isn’t Rome). She loves music, so it’s not just cruising to meet someone. Unlike Jep, she is not cynical or critical, although she doesn’t put up with crap.
Also a melancholy mood piece. Gloria is facing the 3rd act of her life, and no matter how positive her nature is, she is alone.
“Gloria” is not as accomplished of a film as “The Great Beauty”. Paulina Garcia gives a bravura performance as Gloria, but it’s not enough. I want to like it as much as Sorrentino’s polished bonbon, but I know the bonbon has an aftertaste that will stay with me for a long time.