Opening 25 Jul 2013
Rich people have such empty, boring lives, poor dears. They gather in groups to make superficial small talk, take long walks, stare into the horizon from a terrace apartment next to the Colosseum, smoke cigarettes, float lazily in private pools, and fling themselves into hectic parties to rival anything Gatsby could organize. These rich people live their lives somewhere between characters in Federico Fellini and Woody Allen films. A typical conversation is: “What do you do?” “Me? I’m rich.” “Great job!” Here, the action (if you can call it that) revolves around Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a 65-year-old man who can hold his own with this crowd because he wrote one successful novel years ago. Now, on his birthday, he supposedly begins to question the frivolity of this existence and to seek fundamental values.
In spite of this not very encouraging introduction, still, this is very much a film to watch. Several commentators mention that Rome is the star of the film, and I agree wholeheartedly. The photography of people and places in and around Rome is superb, going from quiet stillness to vivaciousness, and nothing is left to chance, e.g., in a 60-second shot of eight women in a choir, they all wear the same dress and are the exact same height. Besides this excellent scenic representation of Rome, three women in small roles deserve your attention. One plays a nun, probably 90 years old, who has given her life to her faith and now just sits and stares straight ahead while others deify her. One is the dwarf Dadina (Giovanna Vignola), who is the head of the publishing house for which Jep worked. One is a young girl who entertains these society parasites with an artistic happening, splashing paint on a huge wall. I can imagine film classes discussing each shot for inspiration; I can imagine watching the film more than once and savoring newly discovered details each time. (Becky Tan)