Rich visions: The Great Beauty, A Castle in Italy and Seduced and Abandoned

Paolo Sorrentino, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and James Toback show us the money.

Nick James

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Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

Never mind the jewel robberies, the starting pistols going off, the pigs walking the streets (by which I don’t mean the ever-zealous security forces) and the four-day deluge; the story of this year’s Cannes so far has been the films, not what’s outside. My head is teeming with images, since nearly every film has at least some bravura sequences going for it.

Right now, having just come out of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, I’m re-running his endless, often gratuitous crane shots, designed here to show off Rome and its la dolce vita in the most lavishly decadent way imaginable. We visit the indolent realms of the super-rich through the eyes of one Jep Gambardella (played with immaculate imperiousness by Toni Servillo), a 65-year-old Boswell to the smart set who is only more withering about himself than he is about those around him. This is Sorrentino’s most blatant expression of fealty to Fellini yet, with religion and riches intermingled in some fine sketches (and some weak ones), and though the film does gorge too ruminatively on tracking shots down marbled hallways, Jep himself is a marvellous creation, one to rival Casanova himself.

Filippo Timi and Louis Garrell in A Castle in Italy

Filippo Timi and Louis Garrell in A Castle in Italy

Today was a day devoted to the well-heeled as earlier we had seen Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s part-autobiographical drama A Castle in Italy, which makes plain its mission to evoke sympathy for the rich. The director herself plays Louise, a former actress only too aware of middle age whose brother Ludovic (Filippo Timi) is dying of Aids and whose mother (Marisa Borini, the director’s real mother) has let the family estate slide into tax debt, so that the family’s many fabulous possessions (including a Breughel) are at risk of auction, even though Ludovic strives to prevent the loss of a single item.

In the midst of this turbulence, Louise begins a hesitant affair with Nathan (Louis Garrell, VBT’s sometime real-life lover), a much younger actor. It’s a delicate patchwork of emotions put together with panache and occasional self-indulgence – the scene where the very ill Ludovic dances with his mother is wonderful; other moments of abjection are rather theatrical.

Alex Baldwin, James Toback and Roman Polanski in Seduced and Abandoned

Alex Baldwin, James Toback and Roman Polanski in Seduced and Abandoned

Money is the main subject of James Toback’s Seduced and Abandoned, a succession of documentary skits in which Toback and Alec Baldwin – a super-dry wisecracking double act – hawk themselves around last year’s Cannes in search of $50 million from the biggest financiers in the movie business to make a present-day sex drama update of Last Tango in Paris with Baldwin in the Brando role. Comedy and poignancy is derived from their gradual lowering of expectations as potential co-star Neve Campbell is dismissed as unbankable and Baldwin himself is reminded that he’s “just a TV star”.

Toback’s purpose is to demonstrate how completely the movie business now rejects personal taste as an arbiter of what films to make – it’s all about the money. Problem is that film critics know all this stuff already so it’s hard for the film to appear fresh. It is, however, immensely entertaining.

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