Reviews of “The Great Beauty” and “The Wind Rises”

BeautyThe Great Beauty (2013)

Written & Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Cinematography:  Luca Bigazzi
Cast:  Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso

Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Film.

“The Great Beauty” is a fitting, but never servile, homage to the romantic, decadent Rome of the late, great Federico Fellini. Film buffs and fans of Italian cinema will swoon as Luca Bigazzi’s camera pans and swoops through one of the historical wonders of the world, presenting us with a glut of gorgeous tableaux. Ancient statuary, temples and cathedrals of white stone, gifts of ages past.

The past weighs heavily on Jep Garbardella (Servillo)–this paragon of hipness, confidante of the rich and famous, playboy journalist and one-time literary lion has lost his zest for life; la dolce vita no longer holds him in its sway. Increasingly, his worldview is tinged with melancholia, a spiritual vacuum nothing seems to fill. He finds himself falling victim to bouts of nostalgia, recalling happier, simpler, more innocent times…at sixty he is no longer the man he used to be and uncertain of what happens next. Casual affairs do not fulfill and the art scene has become dull, tired and predictable. Nothing seems to shock or excite him any more.

Rome is a city obsessed with its own past, its monuments and attractions recalling bygone days, a lost “golden age”. Great efforts are expended to preserve its treasures and tombs but everything, inevitably, decays, crumbles, fades away. Jeb’s friends are growing old, some pondering the unthinkable, actually leaving the precincts of Rome and seeking happiness elsewhere.

But Jeb is a prince of the Eternal City, a tireless flaneur, walking its broad boulevards, ambling along the canal, the early morning neighborhoods coming to life during his insomniac strolls. He knows he’ll never write another book or feel the same kind of desire as he did as a young man…or rediscover that great beauty he has pursued all his adult life. That is the source of his melancholy, the knowledge that once he was young and filled with passion and a faith in something higher, a calling, an aspiration…or perhaps the belief that love, at least, endures.

Sadly, that is not the case.

And memories, precious though they may be, cannot suffice.

ΩΩΩΩ 1/2 (out of 5 )

* * * *

thw wind risesThe Wind Rises (2013)

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Voices: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, Mandy Patinkin

The last full-length movie from one of the giants of animation.

Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” is visually stunning, no surprise there, but I was somewhat puzzled as to why the Master would choose what is essentially a bio-pic as his swan song. He is, after all, a film-maker who usually explores far more fantastic themes, taking great pains to show us that the separation between reality and the uncanny isn’t as strictly delineated as we would like to think.

Jiro Horikoshi designed aircraft and is best known for being the driving force behind Japan’s greatest fighter planes. According to Master Miyazaki, Jiro was a dreamer, a man obsessed with flight–if he had ethical qualms about serving the military, they were fleeting and couldn’t compete with his desire to create better, faster, more stable aircraft. As for the carnage unleashed by aerial bombardment, Jiro’s conscience is remarkably clear. Near the conclusion of the film, reflecting on the horrors of the Second World War, an aftermath of ashes, Jiro merely opines: “It didn’t end well.”

A supreme understatement.

But Mr. Miyazaki is more interested in the doomed love story between Jiro and his consumptive young bride Nahoko than he is portioning out blame–that’s unfortunate. As a result, Jiro remains one-dimensional, unconvincing: a cartoon character. A conscience, some inkling of the crucial role he played in a murderous war, would have been refreshing.

“The Wind Rises” is about flying, severing our bonds to the earth and soaring among the clouds. Long before Jiro’s passion sends him to the drawing board (he’s myopic and can never be a pilot) he dreams of taking to the skies alongside his hero, the great Italian aviator Giovanni Caproni. Caproni (or, at least his shade) warns Jiro of the difficulties that lie ahead, the disappointments and failures that pioneers of new technologies must face. The “little Japanese boy” soon learns the wisdom of these words.

This is undoubtedly one of Mr. Miyazaki’s most beautiful efforts and throughout the film I could see his artistic influences, from the cultivated precision of Japanese landscapes to the color-mad Impressionists and billowing Turner-esque cloudscapes. The animation, even those portions that are, by necessity, computer-generated, reveal the Master’s touch on virtually every frame.

One only wishes Mr. Miyazaki had expended as much effort on the story, on Jiro Horikoshi’s unblemished, untroubled character. Surely, he could not have been as naive and blameless and the director paints him (that, I think, does Jiro a supreme injustice). Surely, as a living, breathing human being he must have been imbued with something that might have resembled regret.

ΩΩΩ1/2  (out of 5)

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About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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