Welcome to The 405 Film Club: a series of recommendations from musicians, filmmakers, producers, artists, writers and a million other "creatives". Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty was recommended by Richard from Fly Golden Eagle.

Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty starts with a quote from Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline about travel being a central part of life, both in a literal and symbolic way. "Our journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength… A fictitious narrative." Much like a question posed by Bill Callahan in his song 'Ride My Arrow', "Is life a ride to ride/Or a story to shape and confide/Or chaos neatly denied?" Who is the Master that makes the grass green? The Great Beauty as a movie has an immense charm and curiosity, one that keeps me just coming back to it. It's smart and has a certain sensibility, yet doesn't come off as having a chip on its shoulder. It's a movie with some great color, suffused with seemingly every instance of life and emotion we as humans can experience. It proceeds to paw around with the notion of destiny vs. free will for both its characters and notions of love/sex/religion in society. Not to put too fine a fucking point on it or anything.

Set in a post-Berlusconi era Rome - an era I'm to understand as comparable to the actor Regan's presidency in my country of America - we follow a hand full of socialites, deftly spear-handed by the trumping Jep Gambardella, as they navigate their relationships with themselves and the world around them. I'll leave out any of the social criticism I've read the movie having (because as far as I'm concerned geo-politics is the term that describes the inner-workings of the stone and gem trade show enthusiasts I grew up seeing at the convention center), but that telling old framework covered in the dust of decadence certainly adds to why I think this movie is just fantastic.

That in mind, one aspect of the film that really interests me is the idea of nostalgia. There's the Roman Empire and the Vatican/"Christianity" lingering and haunting the city, struggling till the bitter end up the stairs of the Scala Sancta for assured partial indulgences and a chance at the grand prize of total ecstasy, impressive in its perseverance (rightly so). You have Italian cinema talking across the decades with the multiple Fellini-allusions ("I'm taking you to see a sea monster!"). Jep's tireless little buddy Roma delivers in his tragically sincere manner the ending monologue to his original one-man play, "What's wrong with feeling nostalgia? It's the only distraction for those who have no faith in the future." Very shortly after that scene, Jep says to his slightly-scorned friend Stefania - tongue-in-cheek to their situation, but telling in its truth - "The future is a marvelous thing, Stefa'." For me, this is a crossroads one inevitably comes to in life, where you decide whether or not the future is still going to get you to put on your good shirt and dancing shoes. To look back or gaze forward, that is the penguin.

In Milan Kundera's novel Ignorance he breaks down the word nostalgia for us: "The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering.' So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Each of the characters in The Great Beauty deal with their very worlds changing around them and the passing of time in various ways. We see some find success and contentment in their neatly defined definition of chaos. Others, not so much, and suffer outwardly and inwardly. Roma eventually packs his bags, Jep comes to terms with his ideal self. The tailors Catellani and Rebecchi make nice suits in harmony. Margherita pizza is elected President.

Sorrentino's Beneath the blah blah blah vs. Hemingway's our nada who art in nada. Would you like a daiquiri or a glass of red wine? You might be, not only the next contestant on the Price is Right, but the Master that makes the grass green. Or an ego-maniac, either way you go.

This is to say nothing of the almost-perfect soundtrack when it comes to "classical/choral" music, from Part to Lang to Rachel's, and the cinematic way it bridges the movie together. Nor the snappy dialogue or the woman singing on the couch at a party with a cast on her leg or the bitchin' dance in the opening scene. The movie is also very far away from being ironic in content, and I think it stands solidly on its own two legs for of that. It's a movie that seems like it knows where it's going the whole time, that there's something I can take away from going along with it. Like, in addition to really good sparkling water or whatever they drink over there that makes them immune to cancer so they can smoke and look so fresh to death all the time.


Fly Golden Eagle play London's Forum on September 5th. Watch the video for 'Tangible Intangible' below.