La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) 2013

La Grande Belleza

Thanks to Film Club, I am seeing many more films now than I have in years . Having said that, I really do not want to make antonioyrocinante into a film blog, there are enough of those already.

But I just saw La Grande Bellezza, (yes it is a 2013 film, I am a bit slow) and I have to tell you about it – beware, there might be spoilers.

This is an exquisite film, as beautiful as Rome, the city where it is filmed: exuberant, colorful, rich, fun… but there is a gaping void in it, a melancholy, sad void represented by protagonist Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella.

You see, all the beauty in the world is sterile, meaningless without love, without a deep spiritual connection. Director Sorrentino is not subtle about this: The film opens with a quote from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night

Traveling is very useful: it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.

To drive home that point, the opening scene combines ethereal views of Rome combined with David Lang’s otherworldly song I lie. The fact that the song is in Yiddish should lead you to the great spiritual journeys of Israel, of Job. Life is nothing if not a spiritual journey to yourself, to the divine in you, to your Grande Belleza, Namaste.

Let’s stop there. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or go see the film and then let me know.

On the importance of culture, art, and beauty.

If we do not take time to appreciate beauty, how are we spending our time? This year has been another remarkable year for art, culture and beauty in Chapel Hill. It is a town with an exquisite taste for that which is beautiful. I have been lucky to enjoy that, even when in the stress of finishing my dissertation I had to miss some great performances.

The season started for me with Juliette Binoche, of whom I have been a big fan since the 80s, playing Sophokles’ Antigone in the T.S. Eliot translation, what a presence! I love strong women (now you know my vote for November 8).

UNC artist-in-residence, violinist Gil Shaham played Bach’s six violin solos. I think I still have goosebumps.

Two days later Shaham played Verdi and Tchaikovsky with the UNC Symphony.

As I become older, I have become more and more selective in my taste, but being a lover of the Portuguese Fado, I went to see Mariza, It was very nice, although I miss the tavernas in Alfama.

Another highlight of the year was listening to Riccardo Muti, directing the Chicago Symphony’s Beethoven’s Fifth and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Of course as an encore he regaled us with some Verdi!

In November I saw The Ensemble Intercontemporain play some modern pieces. Pierre Boulez’s sur Incises for three pianos, three harps and three percussion blew my mind. Rock and Rollers talk about Phil Spector’s “Wall of sound”, I have also heard it mentioned about Brian Eno and U2, but this piece is more like a tactile wall of sound, like a curtain of sound. Watch for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments section!

Before the Christmas break, I saw the great Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker. Don’t mess with tradition.

Gil Shaham performed again in February, playing Prokofiev and Beethoven and I got to go with my composer friend, James.

After defending and delivering my dissertation I managed to catch a few more great events. The evening my dissertation was accepted by the Graduate School, I rode old Rocinante to a nice opera recital in Durham, Talya Lieberman sang a fantastic mix of Handel, Ravel, and Kurt Weill. Brava!

Back at UNC’s Memorial Hall I saw Les Arts Florissants perform a repertoire of Baroque Serious Airs and Drinking Songs. What a brilliant way to say farewell to four great years of jaw dropping concerts at Carolina Performing Arts.

Again with my dear friend James, we saw the North Carolina Symphony perform Handel, Haydn and Stravinsky’s modernist masterpiece The Firebird (1919).

On the theater front I saw not one, but two, Chekhov plays: Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, which the last time I saw performed was by my students at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts! I also snuck in one musical: Sweeney Todd, lovely Gore!!!

Of course I always support students’ productions and concerts which included two operas, the UNC Baroque Ensemble, the UNC Symphony Orchestra, and the University Chamber Players.

All in all, an extremely rewarding season, the likes of which I do not foresee enjoying in the near future.