La Grande Belezzai is an incredibly complicated construction. It has taken me five months and nigh on a dozen rewatchings to deconstruct it, but I finally managed! They were five well spent months. Let's walk through it together.
The key to the film is actually the introductory passage. It reads :
Viaggiare, e proprio utile, fa lavorare l'immaginazione.
Tutto il resto e delusione e factica.
ilii viaggio che ci e dato e internamente immaginario.
Ecco la sua forza.
Va dalla vita alla morte. Uomini, bestie, citta e cose, e tutto inventato.
E un romanzo, nient'altro che una storia fittizia.
Lo dice Littre, e lui non si sbaglia mai.
E poi in ogni caso tutti possono fare altrettanto.
Basta chiudere gli occhi, e dall'altra parte della vita.
Which in English would be,
It goes from life to death. Men, beasts, cities and things, it's all made up.
It's a novel, nothing more than a fictitious story.
So says Littre, who is never wrong.
And then in any case all can do as much.
It suffices to close the eyes, it's on the other side of life.
This then is the story we are going to watch unfold. The only real element in any of it is the man, lying in his bed, falling asleep. The ceiling starts to turn, into a representation of the sea at first, then into an image of the sea (no, these two aren't the same thing), and then finally into the sea itself. That is the only break from imagination, everything else -- women, beasts, cities and things (but we repeat ourselves) as depicted are merely imagined.
This man, then, the man Toni Servillo begins by representing, only to then imagine and eventually become (see ?) recounts his own life. Of his childhood he recalls that he didn't think live shells were such a great scent, but instead preferred the scent to be found in the abandoned ones. This, he thinks, is sensibility, but I've rather another word for it.
Of his youth he recalls the natural drive to become "king", which he renders as
Sono precipitato abbastanza presto, quasi senza accorgermene, in quello che si puo definire il vortice della mondavitaiv. Ma io non volevo essere semplicemente un mondano. Volevo diventare il rev dei mondani. E ci sono riuscito. Io non volevo solo partecipare alle feste. Volevo avere il potere di farle fallire.vi
The problem is neither with twentysomething Southerner, "Septentrionale" as Fiore so deliciously calls it, coming to the capital with half a mind to take over the throne to be found therevii ; nor with his senescent expectation that he's succeeded. Why the hell not ? What difference does it make anymore ? But mind what he aims to lord over, what his chosen field appears to be. That is the problem.
Why would anyone ever aim to become king of such paltry kingdom as this mondanita ? Who in his right mind would wish to rule over... parties ?!
It's a decaying culture, you see. It very much suffers from the poker problem : young man trying to "go West" to "make a life for himself" will naturally go where the betters are. But as he can't identify them himself, he relies on social cues to do the identification for him. And if those cues all point to some piled up nonsense... Hey, it's not just insects we're light-polluting out of a livelihood...
So, the young man aspiring to the means of meaning and disinclined from life (strike one) ends up misdirected towards nonsense (strike two). Not yet enough to sink a ship.
But he also lacks substance! The woman comes to him, for direction, as they do. As they will, as they must, for what else is there ? He humiliates her, publicly and stingingly, and correctly -- but then ? There's nothing there, exactly when the form ends and the substance should begin he has exactly nothing to offer. Don't tell the girl on her knees "your life is a waste" if that's all you have to say ; the sentence must go "your life is a waste ; live it like this from now on". Yes, I get it, the form's the "fun" part, and at any rate easy enough ; taking responsibility for the world is hard and requires one to look at himself not as a friend, but rather as an enemy, which really is the worst part. And yet... what possible kingship of molehills is this, where one wants to sit on the throne for the sitting ? For the mere, for the nude sitting as an act a stump would suffice, and understand what this means!viii
His friend tells him that "Rome has muchly disappointed him", or rather
Ho passato tutte le estati della vita a fare propositi per settembre. Ora non piu. Ora passo l'estate a ricordare i propositi che facevo, e che sono svaniti. Un po per pigrizia, un po per dimenticanza. Che cosa avete contro la nostalgia ? E l'unico svago possibile per chi non crede nel futuro. L'unico! Senza pioggia, agosto sta finiendo e settembre non comincia.
The man who has spent a lifetime, forty years, literally forty years, patiently polishing his armor awaiting his marching orders thinks his problem is that he's "so very ordinary".
His problem is that the man he worships as king -- "the Human Apparatus constituted the history of Italian literature!!!" -- never actually had anything to say. At any rate not to him. Yes this misfortunate Sancho Panza eventually retires into the world's saddest "Ma non c'e da preoccuparsi. Va bene. Va bene cosi." that makes me weep just for re-reading and took forever to actually type into the little box. Do you know of sadder things ?
And yet... there's also a son. A son who isn't crazy, but who has problems. Serious fucking problems. Leaving aside that when he sees his mother he turns red, consider what happens when he sees his father!
Andrea, sei con mamma ?
Come stai, caro ?
Male. Proust scrive che la morte potrebbe coglierci oggi pomeriggio. Mette paura, Proust. Non domani, non tra un anno, ma questo stesso pomeriggio.
Ma adesso e sera, il pomeriggio sarebbe comunque domani...
E Turgenev : "La morte aveva gettato il suo sguardo su di me, notandomi."
Non prendere questi scrittori troppo sul serio.
Se non prendo sul serio Proust, che ci prendo sul serio ?
Ma niente. Niente non devi prendere sul serio, acceti il menu, naturalmente. Alcune cose sono troppo difficili da capire per una singola persona.
Si tu non hai capito, non vuol dire che nessuno possa capire.
To ask what the woman properly asks, "che rispondi" ? It is not an idle question. She may ask it of you, you may not throw it back at her.
La Grande Belezza is, you see, the saddest story conceivable. Against the setting of the world's first (and for many endless years only) capital, the life of a putative king unfolds. There's half a dozen women in his harem. There's one who left him "for no reason" many years ago, the reason transparently being that she waited for his lead a little while but as it wasn't forthcoming she wandered off. There's one who gave him a deranged child. Who made it that way ? Was it she ? Was it he ? Put it all upon god, shall we ? Then there's the third who asks the question he has no answer for ; she dies spontaneously in his bed for no reason (though at this point one'd strongly suspect boredom). Then there's the one who shyly, ashamedly asks for his help dealing with her own image. It's a problem women have. He escapes out the balcony like a strange sort of reverse-Romeo. There's also the one who attempts to keep his house in order and provide amulets for his protection, the farabutta ; and the one that feeds him recooked rice and tries her utter best to top from the (veryix ) bottom, for the sheer, lunatic, desperate necessity of some meagre modicum of direction. They're all the same one, these women, you realise this, don't you ?
There's a few knights in his hall, and they've all fallen over on their spears in some way or another, never even knowing such a thing as the field exists, somewhere. Imagine a horse that's never been put to pasture, so removed from its very nature it can't even on his own manage to summon up the image, the imagined image, of grass growing on a field. Delicious perfection, water to the thirsty, grass pushing up, blade by blade, as far as the horsy eye can see. Imagine the horse bereft of that fundamental counterpoint to horsedom provided by nature, which is the grassy field.
The king that had nothing to say, the saddest story ever conceived, the saddest story ever told. The end.
PS. The title is a collation of two "strong expressions". The first is provided by Agata Christie ; the second is provided by Sergiu Nicolaescu. What they have in common is a certain common man's would-be toughness of spirit. This is an intricate thing, so let's take the time to understand it fully.
The definitive expression is a semantic construction that attempts to render the metaphysics subiacent without remainder.
The truth of the matter is that all sensible reality is driven by unsensible essence, of which phenomena is but an approximation, which for phenomena constitutes a strange attractorx. This then is the metaphysics subiacent -- not itself part of this world, yet nevertheless driving the perceptible manifestations of this world. The unseen mover of things, the metaphysics subiacent.
There's two kinds of definitive expressions available to the common man, which is to say the man who is not equipped, nor capable to handle metaphysicsxi. On one hand there's the kind like Virgil saying "you've got a lot of heart, kid", ie proper ; then on the other hand there's these deliberate, aspirational kinds -- like some inept pulp writer regarded by the dumb as intelligentxii, or like some would-be Romanian film studio night watchman dreaming himself a scriptwriter-director-and-moviestar. Because he understands how these film things goxiii, aite ? And besides, he's got a lot of time to daydream about it. Imagine if that "500" idiotxiv actually got a Kurchatov moment and ended up making movies...
So, the title is a summative reference to the specific inferiority of the ploughsmen of the endless mental fields. I figure it is a great title because it contrasts the contents of the article with great elegance, but I enjoy the derisive disdain implicit in any case.———
- 2013, by Paolo Sorrentino, with the excellent Toni Servillo, set against the carefully curated beauty of Rome, itself an undeniable character. [↩]
- No idea, typo in the intro ? [↩]
- This word used to exist at some point, but current English seems to be unaware "factica" means "poor ersatz" in Italian, and to rather muchly prefer the less refined Spanish approach, of having it denote the equivalent of "factual".
Yet English preference (or rather -- dullness of the contemporary spirit) aside, in Italian like in Romanian the word denotes a failed attempt rather than the actual item. [↩]
- The rules of the language he speaks would require this word be "mondanita". I do not care ; the correct word required by the structure of meaning is monda-vita. He even reads it a shade towards this, correctly. [↩]
- Bolding found in the original read. [↩]
- He owns a thing who can destroy it, yes ? [↩]
- Because there's a throne to sit on, in Rome. Isn't there ? What'd it all be for, if there weren't ?! [↩]
- Not "if all you need to do is sit, all that's really needed is a stump" but rather "if all you're going to do is mere sitting, all you ever sit upon will be turned into a stump". That is the drama there! [↩]
- "Quando parlera con la direttrice..." [↩]
- An attractor is called strange if it has the fractal nature (and not, like the pedestrian definition proposes, "if it has a fractal structure" -- structure is a term of art, that doesn't enter into this ; and it's not a matter of "a", it's a matter of the). Look it up, by which I don't mean "read the words". Work out the formulas. [↩]
- Understand what this means : a dog without gloves is not equipped nor able to handle a hot oven. The part where it's not equipped discusses how he doesn't have gloves on ; but the part where he's not able discusses how even if you somehow forced gloves on it, a) they would cease through that violence to be gloves in any proper sense and b) it'd still not be able to handle the hot oven. [↩]
- No, Arthur Conan Doyle is no better. In fact he's the exact same thing. [↩]
- "Aici e peli-cula, e banii statului!" [↩]
- Monologue from "Knockaround Guys", which is a terrible film, one of many I sorta-watched but never reviewed. The monologue, very typically (which is to say, ineptly) delivered by Vin Diesel, goes like this :
Five hundred. Five hundred fights, that’s the number I figured when I was a kid. Five hundred street fights and you could consider yourself a legitimate tough guy. You need them for experience. To develop leather skin. So I got started. Of course along the way you stop thinking about being tough and all that. It stops being the point. You get past the silliness of it all. But then, after, you realize that’s what you are.
A legitimate tough guy, aaaaite ? Ever since I could remember... [↩]