It is a truth universally acknowledged, especially among those of tender soul, born in Europe, young and educated at some of its finest universities, that the world is going to the dogs and that we are all doomed. Those with longer hair and penchant for floral prints see the doom in the impeding food shortage, those who are more into pashmina shawls and ethnic prints see it in political corruption, inequality and wars, while the saddest ones, those in bright polo shirts see it, well, in themselves.
After having had numerous conversations with my ambitious friends about the tragedies of our lives, not being born at the right time, or place, or, at least to richer, more accomplished or better connected parents, and being of a brooding mind, I did come to see this tragedy myself. We, the Chekovian youths who, in the few precious hours after gruelling work in banks, consultancies etc. and drinks see our life as necessarily unfulfilling and our choices, which bring us to these thoughts, as inevitable. Alas, this summer, hopefully the last summer of crisis in Europe brings us two films that capture the malaise of the day (which in all honesty was felt by all people with enough time to brood since the dawn of civilisation).
Frances Ha, tells the story of precisely the demographic described above, living in New York and being shell-shocked from entering the “real world”. Greta Gerwig is amazing as the protagonist and one can feel the awkwardness of the situations she gets herself into, while holding onto her twee persona. The film is a perfect, and beautifully filmed, cautionary tale about growing up and the necessity of letting go of ones illusions, albeit the ones crafted at a liberal arts college. In the end it does give us hope that things can get better if one accepts the reality of things.
This happy conclusion, that existential suffering is reserved for the young, is dashed in La Grande Bellezza, a behemoth of a film, which gives us, in full technicolor and stunning fetail, the lives of Rome’s wealthy and cultured, served with the side of their woes . Why suffer if you are all botoxed up, party hard at 65 and with access to some prime real estate with amazing vistas? Why, well, Sorrentino says, because not only the parties and drinks are vapid, but so are our heartfelf beliefs and identities. This is wonderfully demonstrated, but as Jep, the protagonist urges, we should be compassionate to one another in our fakeness. The best thing about the film is its amazing atmosphere, warm and inviting, which it achieves but taking itself lightly. All the references, e.g. to Proust and La Dolce Vita, could have made it a clunky, reheated Felliniesque update, if it weren’t for the spice of superb humor and genuine compassion to the characters. There are things to be wished for, though, and the film is not as tight as it could have been, but it was so magnetic that the whole theatre was sitting in silence through the whole credits, despite the run time of over take hours.
So the young suffer, the rich suffer, the old suffer…what to do? Well… take it in a stride..and all the stuff about great films not being made any more…not true. I think both Frances Ha and La Grande Bellezza are testaments that our age can add many more chapters to the collection of art on existential angst.