My original interest in Paolo Sorrentino as a featured artist at Bloom began with his film THE GREAT BEAUTY. When I learned that the film was about a 65 year-old man looking back on his stillborn career as a young novelist—his first and only novel entitled The Human Apparatus—I knew that this was Bloom material. The protagonist, Jep Gambardella, emerges from his 65th birthday bash in Rome contemplative and melancholy, considering whether there is any difference, or much distance, between, as blogger Erik Lundegaard puts it, “the great pointlessless and the great beauty.”
It was only after seeing the film and rewatching two others that I learned of Sorrentino’s first novel, Everybody’s Right, published when he was 40. In Monday’s feature on Sorrentino, I focused mostly on the novel and his films THIS MUST BE THE PLACE and IL DIVO. Following are some memorable quotes from THE GREAT BEAUTY, interspersed with Sorrentino’s own words, via interviews.
“Travel is very useful and it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue. Our own journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength. It goes from life to death. People, animals, cities, things, all are imagined. It’s a novel, simply a fictitious narrative.” —Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, epigraph to THE GREAT BEAUTY
“The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 is that I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do.” —Jep Gambardella, THE GREAT BEAUTY
“I never actually think about the audience and how they can perceive my films while I’m making them, not because I’m a snob but because I think as you’re making a movie this attitude can be a trap and can hold you down. When you’re thinking about the movie and fleshing it out the audience isn’t there yet. You are the only audience, so one can think that if you like it then other people can too because you’re a human being like other people who will watch it.” —from an interview at CriterionCast (2013)
“The trains at our parties are the best in Rome. They’re the best cause they go nowhere.” —Jep Gambardella
Ariston Anderson: What do you find so interesting in the grotesque?
Sorrentino: I cannot honestly answer that. I don’t know why but I like it. I like grotesque film. It’s like asking somebody why do you prefer white wine or red wine. There’s no answer to it.
But if you think about it, it’s something that we all like at the end of the day. If we had the best ballerina in the world performing in a beautiful dance at the moment, and then she suddenly stumbled and became clumsy, we would all remember that moment when she failed and made herself grotesque and not at her best performance.
So I just wait for people to stumble.
—from a 2013 Q&A at Filmmaker Magazine
“Stefania, mother and woman, you’re 53 with a life in tatters like the rest of us. Instead of acting superior and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We’re all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little. Don’t you agree?” —Jep Gambardella
“As far as I’m concerned, every film has to be an unrelenting hunt for the unknown and for mystery. Not so much to find the answer, but to keep the question alive.” —from a 2012 interview for The Irish Film & Television Network
Sister Maria: Why did you never write a second novel?
Jep Gambardella: I was looking for the great beauty; but I didn’t find it.
“Beauty is a fleeting experience that does not last. All things that do not last hurt us, and metaphorically, beauty can kill us.” —from a 2013 profile by NPR’s Bilal Qureshi
“Do you know why I only eat roots? Because roots are important.” —Sister Maria, from THE GREAT BEAUTY
“What I find compelling is the moment in which people realize, with suffering and pain, that in the past there was a time when they were happy, because back then the present and the future coincided—they were one and the same thing. Whereas, at an adult age, the future is the future and the present is the present and they do not coincide.” —from a 2013 interview at Film Comment
“This is how it always ends, with death. But first there was life. Hidden beneath the blah, blah, blah. It is all settled beneath the the chitter chatter and the noise. Silence and sentiment. Emotion and Fear. The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty. And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity. All buried under the cover of the embarrassment of being in the world. Beyond there is what lies beyond. I don’t deal with what lies beyond. Therefore, let this novel begin. After all it’s just a trick. Yes, just a trick. —Jep Gambardella
Homepage image: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Europe