THE GREAT BEAUTY
“Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it never has and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Within beauty, both shores meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I’m not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. Truly there are mysteries without end! Too many riddles weigh man down on earth. We guess them as we can, and come out of the water dry. Beauty!
Yes, man’s heart is wide indeed. I’d have it narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! but what the intellect regards as shameful often appears splendidly beautiful to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, most men find their beauty in Sodom. Did you know this secret? The dreadful thing is that beauty is not only terrifying but also mysterious. God and the Devil are fighting there, and their battlefield is the heart of man. But a man’s heart wants to speak only of its own ache. Listen, now I’ll tell you what it says…Dostoevsky
What Is The Great Bellezza about? An old friend asks me. Well, just about that, the Great Beauty. It says it very clearly since its inception, exposes it so openly that no one sees it.
I had forgotten that poetry was an exercise within the reach of cinema. I remember I confess that vaguely, the temptation of embracing her many years ago in the arms of Death in Venice. Then a vacuum to suddenly come to this other film death which is La Grande Bellezza, the sweetest, most beautiful death I’ve ever seen on a screen. I want to die like this, as it does Jep Gambardella, slow, strolling the last moments of life in which the soul prepares to leave amalgamating farewells and conclusions, assimilating the proximity of the journey that awaits with its destiny always ineffable for the human being who lives on this side of the Styx Lagoon. Start the journey like a flamenco flying towards the twilight, there in the far west to which only souls have access, pushed by a soft breath of death as old as wise, as silent as it is certain.
The death of Gambardella Is a Quiet walk, a friendly conversation, a flirtation among old friends who are known as inseparable, as the life and death itself are. “Why didn’t you write another book? “, the death asks him, “because I sought the great beauty, but I have not found it” “and you know, “death continues -Why I just as roots?” “No”-Answer Gambardella “No” “Because the roots are important” death smiles and blows and this is a happy act that makes souls fly, allowing them to return to their roots, to their true essence. This blow makes them free of the misery and the theatricality of this material world
At the beginning of the times, long before the existence of the world of the men or of the creation itself, the goddess Persephone and the god Dionysus shared happiness and harmony in the celestial abode recreating in the forms of a world still nonexistent. But after millennia of tinkering with Non-existent forms, Persephone told Dionysus that she wanted to create those non-existent forms so that they would have a real existence.
Dionysus told her that this was a very dangerous proposition because to make the forms truly exist Persephone should be fragmented to inhabit them and give them her soul. Persephone went ahead in his endeavour and she went down to Earth leaving only Dionysus. For an instant, Dionysus hesitated to ask Zeus for a new companion but immediately recalled that Persephone was his beloved and that it was with her who wanted to be. However, meanwhile, Persephone, trapped in a world of material forms, had forgotten his origin and his divine nature and no longer remembered who she was.
In his deep love for Persephone, Dionysus came down to Earth to be with her. But in doing so the Titans captured him and put him in a huge burning cauldron. As a result, the entire creation was tiznóed from the smoke from Dionysus, a divine halo. The material forms then acquired the impregnation of that divine halo, of that celestial element that is the beauty. Now, the material forms had a halo of divine beauty that Dionysus had given them in the hope that Persephone, through the encounter with that beauty, could remember who she was.
But Persephone was completely trapped in the matter and could not remember her divine nature.
One day, tired of hardship, the miseries and the pain of the matter, was seated on the edge of a lake where her long and beautiful hairs were tabled as if to squeeze and stretch them could extract all the pain that had been sheltering through the life in the forms. Her eyes then perched on the mirror that the waters provided her with, the magical mirror of Bacchus that returns the reflection of truth, the image of the true being and not the reflection of the form that inhabits. Persephone saw then her soul and knew who she was and from the bottom of his being arose a heartbreaking cry to his brother and husband Dionysus,!Help me, Brother!
Dionysus upon hearing she and came swiftly in her aid, fragmenting himself once more time to go down to earth. But this time he did not descend to the forms of matter, this time he spread to reach the heroes, the philosophers, the poets, the sages. And it is there, in the nobility of the heroes, in the wisdom of the sages and the philosophers and in the beauty of the poets, how we can remember that the soul is not from this world.
The soul seeks its roots in the flashes with which the Great Beauty briefly sparkles reminding us that we are more than the forms. Gambardella has not written another book because it sought the great beauty, the beauty with capitals that Plato and Plotinus spoke about, the same tradition of which the Christianity will drink for its mystical sequel, the same beauty that seeks Dostoevsky and of which it speaks in The Idiot. But despite its sensitivity, Gambardella is lost in the forms of matter and even though it is known lost it does not manage to find the exit of the labyrinth which he inhabits. Because life, as Plato said, is nothing more than a game of shadows that we see reflected at the bottom of a cavern, forms that are not true, that are not Real. The truth is another aspect of great beauty. But, what we think is important, real or beautiful “It’s just a trick”…the main one, to think that the material world has a real life.
This is not a subjective reading of who wants to see where there is no. The discourse is clear to those who are not lost in the superficiality of forms.
The film does not hide anything, it says it from the beginning with all its allegories and its poetic, visual, musical, symbolic, literary references…
“Our journey is eternally imaginary. That is its strength its strength” even before a single frame has been exposed to our eyes, Sorrentino, poet and honest as he is, explains it using one of the 20th century’s referential novels: “It’s a novel, a fictional story. Happens on the other side of life“, Journey to the end of the night.
But this is not a film for entertainment or superficiality; It’s not a job for illiterate, either. We opened the curtain with Louis-Ferdinand Céline to give way to a salvation and that other metaphor Rome or death is sending to us a message about the liberation that death represents for the soul and in which I will not extend.
Immediately, we flew over, briefly, but clearly, the bust of Gustavo Modena, famous Italian theatrical author who was well known for his wonderful way of Declaiming Dante’s Divine Comedy. Divine Comedy to which we’re going to come back again and again throughout the whole Film. Gambardella, he also has his own Beatrice In the figure of Elisa de Santis, his own Koré, like a young Persephone with whom Gambardella never married. That ghost that now comes to seek him to indicate the way, that beautiful koré, as it could not be otherwise, opens the doors of the Champs Elysees in the only possible way, “now, I want to show you something,” she says to Gambardella, that soul what Just crossed the The Styx Lagoon.
It would be as interesting as long to go to each and every one of the references, the isotopies, the allegories, the references, the propositions and questions that Sorrentino does throughout the film, but let me quote just the most obvious in case, ever, they decide.
The way to the death of Gambardella It produces sweet, restful, poetic but relentlessly fulfilling to recreate in this bath of poetry so vainly launched into a world that knows nothing but sees the forms of matter each and every one of the steps that are expected of such a trance. That game with the metaphors of the water, of the nuns, of the ships moving away in the Tiber with his Charon boatman while he sees them pass from the shore coming closer and closer to them… That go and come between day and night, that beginning of the film with water, with death, with the twilight that Jep contemplates swaying on its hammock… that twilight with which the day ends, with which the night begins, with which the souls lift the flight to its eternal abode.
Maybe it’s towards the end of the movie when this traffic becomes more obvious. For a moment, we stop to contemplate a whole life, day by day, in that photographic exhibition in which we see to spend a whole life before our eyes in a single instant. Then we understand that everything is a trick, that the important things in life are not what our eyes see and we can understand and feel the fugacity of life. Beauty is something else, it’s somewhere else. We are, again, in this referential frame of the Roman ruins of whose glorious beauty does not subtract but the structures, lost the tinsel, the ornamentations, the superficiality, scarcely four walls and some bows to remind us of the grandeur of which one day Far from the famous baths of Caracalla.
We say goodbye to the last friends, and we seek answers in the hereafter. But a carnival cardinal cannot give us a foretaste of the truth. The religion, we have only their robes, like an ancient ritual, worn and forgotten of which only fragmented ruins remain. The same ruins of what one day was Rome…
Death is presented to us as it should be, without distinction between ranks or races. And the bereaved figures begin to appear as cloistered nuns hidden under their black veils.
Once the cardinal gives us the blessing of the rites the last curtain of life falls and we only have to meet face to face with the death that sleeps on the floor of our own room in the deep of our own intimacy where the tricks of our fake beauty are out.
We are ready now to talk directly to her without the need of the intermediaries. It is the twilight, and she, who knows the baptismal name of All souls, that is, her true name, blows sweetly making these start her journey in search of the sun, of the true light. The sunlight goes out, it is time to leave and abandon the world of ways where souls can only pass briefly as a stop on their eternal journey.
Once received its sweet breath, we can already jump from the top of the bridge to the metaphorical waters of the Tiber, just as the day begins when the night lights go out. No longer will our protagonist to leave the waters until reaching the beginning of the staircase where Beatriz-Koré will be waiting. We’ll never see Gambardella With his feet nailed to the ground again, not once.
The staircase where Beatrice awaits you, an ascending staircase, is no longer a staircase of the city of Rome, is another staircase, on the other side of the waters.
The imaginary sea-roof of his room by the what his soul navigated anticipating his moment, It has become a real sea and we sail by it in the Charon’s boat to reach The Gates of Hades, where Beatrice, that Koré, that Persephone still virgin in the eyes of Gambardella whom he never get to possess, but equally empress of the ultra world, is presented to us as a guide.”I want you to see something,” she says and offers the first glimpse of beauty, but this time, the real, the Great Beauty. “Man lives all in present,” Breton said in the same work to which Gambardella referred in his last party remembering that “who am I?” while he contemplates drunk the train game which he likes so much.
The change of lights on the character and the fusion of its ages tells us that we are no longer in the world of the senses but in another. “Let the novel Begin,” that which closes the circle with the beginning, that journey at the end of the night that was On the other side of life, the one that now begins.
The credits also place us in the boat of Charon and although we no longer see Gambardella because now we’re his eyes. We cross the bridges of the Eternal City in the last journey laden with allegories that end with the vision of the Angels under whose presence the music ends and melts to black.
We had started like this, we had been told, that this was a film about death, that gives meaning to life because it is its ineffable and categorical brevity that makes us question its meaning. The meaning and the “reality” of everything.
“I love the train. Who am I? That’s how one of the Breton novels started. And, of course, the novel doesn’t give the answer. The trains that we do in our festivities are the most beautiful in all of Rome. They’re beautiful because they’re not going anywhere “ Gambardella recites Breton in his last party, that in which he is drunk, could not be otherwise, because it is Baco that offers us the magic mirror in which only the soul can recognize itself, drunk contemplates those mundane trains that are not going anywhere.
“Who Are You?” is also the question that a little girl asks from the bottom of the Temple of San Pedro. It is not a trivial or naïve question or done at random. It is a voice that rises from the underworld as if it was the very Persephone in her aspect of Koré who was questioned him. “You’re nobody,” the girl replies to the astonishment of Jep. It is a warning of a life lived under the sign of cowardice. It is presented to us immediately after having known the history of his true love, now vanished in the arms of death and that since death returns to his life to seek it. A love before which he knew nothing more than to let go.
Allusions, metaphors, references are as numerous as they are clear and beautiful. Just know how to read them. In case there is any doubt, the poster of the film leaves no questionable loophole: under its revelatory title, the figure of the Ocean God resting behind the backs of Gambardella. Ocean is an ancient God, a Titan that was always kept on the fringe of wars and conflicts because that was its nature, the edge, the boundaries, the waters that separate the Earth from the known world, the dominance of the living and the forms, of the unknown. You have to cross many rivers to reach Hades And those are the dominions of the ocean, neither this world nor the other, but the waters. Like those waters between which Gambardella walk waiting for him to pass his last boat, between day and night, between memory and oblivion, between Superficiality and Sensibility.
Zootopia is a classic lesson about cinema. Full of reference to the history of Hollywood, its script, technically perfect, is a pretty good model for teaching new writers.
The director Rich Moore explains that they eventually made the decision to switch the narrative focus from Nick Wilde to Judy Hopps.
About two-thirds of the way through production, we changed the story to Judy’s story, because Nick, being kind of a cynical character, he didn’t like the city of Zootopia. He was kind of oppressed by the city of Zootopia. And in our movies, we want the audience to like the world, not dislike the world. And it was very confusing with our main character as someone who didn’t like the city, how do we feel about this world? So we said, let’s just try, as an experiment, making Judy the main character — since she’s an optimist, she sees the best in everything — let’s try making it her story and see what happens.
Beyond this kind of spontaneous vision of the modern film process, I would like to have with you a closer look to this eternal –never disappointing- second character cliché of the trickster.
The protagonist is only one among a lot of others points that you have to considerate if you want to draw a good story. As much as it may seem, characters are not people; through them, we show different aspects of the human being nature. Every story is about something concrete and clear and you are going to build a little group of different characters in order to show diverse features of the same problem. The protagonist needs a companion or companions, who allow him to express his points of views and face, in one way or another, his fears. A second character, based in some aspects of the archetype of the trickster, is something that the audience always love it, especially when your main character is a bluestocking cute bunny. That means contrast, and contrast gives colour and rhythm and guarantees the funny opposition and exciting relationship.
Have a look to Han Solo, Flynn Rider (Tangle), or Jack Sparrow just to name a few. Disney has a long background with this kind of characters. Baloo, The tramp, Genie, Thomas O’Mally… the list could be long. It is well known as Disney’s habit to feed his stories and characters with his own precedent works. It is not a particular Disney religion; Hollywood feeds on itself and the audience loves when it does. In fact, it is not necessary to have a master for noticing how the adult public enjoy recognising some of the most classic films of ever inside of Zootopia. However, it is not needed either the audience knows every resource used to make a film in order the trick works.
Personally, I had a deep feeling seeing Zootopia. I could not avoid the memories of the old Robin Hood film. Not only because in this animal world without humans the animals play our rolls like in all that Disney movies which filled my childhood, but for the old trickster fox recycled with pants and tie but still the same. Sort kind of Jack Sparrow played by Paul Newman, a sweated trickster whom, according to with the moral of the times, he finished as a policeman, so sad, after the corresponding ration of psychoanalysis about his problems with the society based in his childhood traumas.
Nick Wilde looks like Robin Hood as two drops of water. And, like Robin, he is not actually the bad guy, and he is not “Wilde-r” because he is a fox, but because he is out of the rules, bad rules, of course. To be out of the rules is the essential requirement for being a trickster. However, the Disney trickster is a likeable happy fellow always ready to make you smile, and it is impossible not love him and his manners. You have to. He is adorable, a little cheater, a bit liar, but adorable. He always is going to have a peculiar style, a swing walking, and a barely playboy touch. He gives you the perfume of the freedom, but, overall, he will show you eventually the value of the true things, friendship, love, loyalty…. This kind of clean stuff. Please, do not be confused here. That is not a trickster that is a Disney one.
Disney tradition of main second character trickster commenced long ago… All started with a mouse. Sorry, all started with a mouse fox. Actually with a one called Reynard the Fox, long, long time ago.
Just after the Snow White success, Uncle Walt started to buy furiously the rights of whatever sort of story that he thinks it could be good for cinema. Not only because he thought he wanted to have the future possibility to go ahead with it, but also because he wanted to be sure that could no one else make it. This political is very common in Hollywood productions companies. One of the stories that earlier fell down in his hands was Reynard the Fox. By 1937 Disney was already interested in making the story of Reynard, but he had moral problems with a character who had no sense of decency or honour, so Reynard would have to wait until someone was able to find a way to make him suitable for Disney standards. Walt was thinking about Reynard for decades, but, unfortunately, he died without having seeing the transformation of Reynard in Robin Hood. Ken Anderson, another Disney legend, was who find up the idea. After all, Robin is the perfect good boy out of the law. Larry Clemmons wrote the story for the 1973 animated Disney film. A new legend was born.
But, who is Reynard the Fox?
Reynard is one of those magnificent characters which origins lose in the night of the ancient time of the European fairy tales. One of the oldest reference is the French tale, Le Roman de Renart by Pierre de Saint-Cloud around 1170. This tale already sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of King Noble, or Leo, the lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim, the wolf. I am pretty sure that Disney knew him through the Henry Morley version, who made a translation from William Caxton’s English in 1481 and published in 1889 as part of Early Prose Romances. Reynard is the main character of a literary cycle of allegorical French, Dutch, English, and German fables, an anthropomorphic red fox and, of course, a trickster figure. All these fables are filled with anthropomorphic animals of whatever kind.
It is fascinating to see illuminated manuscripts with Reynard and his fellows more of one thousand old.
Handschrift, um 1290/1300 circa 1460
Source Book of Hours/ Livre d’heures/ Stundenbuch – Utrecht, Master of Catherine of Cleves, Lieven van Lathem (illuminators); Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum (MMW), Den Haag: Ms. 10 F 50, fol. 6r
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2673623
In the Medieval Bestiary, you can read,
The History of Reynard the Fox edited by Henry Morley, LL.D. William Caxton’s English Translation of 1481 originally published as part of Early Prose Romances George Routledge and Sons London, 1889
Reynard the Fox was medieval Europe’s trickster figure, a nasty but charistmatic character who was always in trouble but always able to talk his way out of any retribution. (…)In editing this edition in 1889, Morley modernized the spelling of words still in common use in his day, but did not attempt to modernize the style of the text. The result is a readable text that has all the flavor of the original.
In 1945 an American version appeared, written by Harry J. Owen and illustrated by Keith Ward and it is not difficult to appreciate the influence of Ward drawings in the work or Anderson for Disney Robin Hood.
Nick Wilde is that sort of secondary character which the audience loves as much as the protagonist, sometimes even more. It is the case of Jack Sparrow, for instance, who, I promise you, is not the protagonist of the story. However, according to the audience, it is, definitely, the Main character of it.
Zootopia is a detective’s story. Hollywood knows everything about that gender. The very first film detective appeared in 1909 during the silent era. It was French and it was a series as well. It was called Nick Cramer. Coincidence or homage? Who knows… does it matter?
But, one thing is crystal clear, create is re-invent. New writes are usually afraid of taking in consideration old classic master and that is a rookie critical mistake. Mickey Mouse is anything else than an Oswald evolution and if you want to know something about adventures all you have to do is to read Homero or Virgilio. The interest of the story does not lie in the fact that nobody hear before; but in your point of view of it.