Film & Cinema Coordinator Nico Marzano introduces a Christmas double bill (27 - 29 December, from 6pm) from the recently nominated 2014 Golden Globe director Paolo Sorrentino. The Great Beauty (2013) and The Consequences of Love (2004) demonstrate Sorrentino's striking visual techniques, which have become the most distinctive feature of this talented Neapolitan film director.
Paolo Sorrentino is one of the most talented directors that Italy has cultivated in the last few years. Sorrentino’s long collaboration with actor Tony Servillo began in 2001 on his first feature, the dramatic comedy One Man Up, winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Ribbon for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Servillo is also the extraordinary lead actor in The Consequence of Love and The Great Beauty, our selected films for this special double bill.
Undeniably, The Consequences of Love, Sorrentino's second feature film, already contains many of the elements that will come to define his authorial voice in subsequent work. The film looks at the life of Titta Di Girolamo: a taciturn man, melancholy, who spends his days sitting at the bar of the hotel where he is staying in Switzerland. It's a grey, empty existence, with his only companion being a suitcase full of money. His evenings, when he is not busy playing cards with the owners of the hotel, are marred by the spectre of insomnia. His personal life amounts to nothing: he refuses to see his ex-wife and children, does not provide anything for his desperate brother, and fails to reciprocate the attentions of a young, graceful bar maid because he feels estranged by love and its consequences. His is a life devoid of imagination, built on top of unspeakable secrets that includes an addiction to heroin, which is consumed with religious ritual every Wednesday morning. Disguised as an accountant but for years secretly working for the Cosa Nostra (the Italian Mafia) Titta is himself the perpetrator and victim of blackmail and under the imminent threat of death. Tony Servillo’s magnetic performance alone captures the audience, definitely casting a lasting spell over the film.
Sorrentino's eerily complex soundscape flits imperceptibly between a cool, electro-pop soundtrack – Terranova, Mogwai etc – and an acutely well-observed set of sound effects. What we imagine as one sound actually turns out to be another. Sorrentino’s attention to diegetic and non-diegetic use of sound certainly represents, alongside his distinctive camera techniques, a major achievement for this and his following features.
In terms of cinematic pace, The Consequences of Love has unique elements which belong to Sorrentino’s signature: the existence of the lead character’s bleak, habitual existence that becomes unstable and unravels, turning the film into pure pulp. This film loses some of its intensity altogether when his representation of the Mafia becomes a bit too caricature and cliché, but Sorrentino never gives up the shot and holds the viewer in a relentless type of hypnosis.
The Great Beauty has been indicated by many as the most Fellinian of Sorrentino’s films. Sorrentino’s plot, more anecdotal than narrative, follows 65-year-old Jep Gambardella, addicted party boy, stunted novelist and lifelong bachelor, on a self-examining pilgrimage through the Rome he loves as he perpetually questions his life. The journey, which mainly has the hero wandering Rome’s empty late-night streets, reveals an invented Rome which indeed Fellini might have appreciated. Much on view is enshrouded in mystery, as Sorrentino’s “beauty” is captured nocturnally. Gone are the tourists, noise, traffic, garbage.
However The Great Beauty is hardly serene, as it bursts with nonstop audio and visual splashes that accompany sketches of Jep hanging with his upper-crust clique at dinners, restaurants, parties and oddball art happenings. All that frolicking is occasionally hushed by the hero’s frequent side glances at quiet clergymen, shrines and innocent school children, almost alien in his hedonistic midst but eternal to Rome.
Not so quiet are the many characters in the film who are salacious gossips. Strident Italian pop and disco sounds flood a soundtrack also shared by classical music and sacred pieces identified with the Church. Sorrentino describes this blend as “best suited to the film because it’s an inevitable mix of the sacred and profane that is Rome.”
The Great Beauty on one hand recovers the sensuality of the best works of Sorrentino and on the other tries to reframe his powerful formalism that often comes into conflict though his desire to "say", his tendency to fully explain the film to his audience through witty dialogues and monologues. The Great Beauty is one of the few Italian films with a big budget that attempts to address the problems of today as a conversation between form and content. Real and surreal. Acknowledging that there are frictions, and that the end result is inevitably imperfect. In my view, this is a sign that there is life.
The Great Beauty is Italy’s official entry for the 2014 Academy Awards foreign-language race, following bows at Cannes and Toronto. Just recently the film was the big winner at the European Film Awards held in Berlin, where The Great Beauty took home prizes for best film, director, actor for Toni Servillo, and editor for Cristiano Travaglioli.
Double Bill Offer
27 - 29 Dec, from 6pm
£15 / £12 Concessions / £10 ICA Members
See Paolo Sorrentino's The Consequences of Love and The Great Beauty for a reduced price - call the Box Office on 020 7930 3647 to book the double bill.