Beauty on the Big Screen

By Valentine Rossetti

The commercial release earlier this year of the film ‘I Am Love [Il Sono L’amore]—directed by Luca Guadagnino and co-produced by Tilda Swinton—marked a turning point in contemporary cinema and perhaps the beginning of a new epoch in aesthetic appreciation. Centring around a wealthy Milanese family at the turn of the Millennium, as they face a number of upheavals, it could have been just another character-led art-house extravaganza aimed at the discerning cinephile, but it was something much more.

This film sought to do something different, as described by the editor of Sight & Sound, Nick James, after it was shown at the Toronto Film Festival: ‘Several people who saw the film felt it had a certain quality they hadn’t experienced for some time… the impalpable flavour of some vanished cinematic essence. He went on further to say, ‘I knew what they meant: the film has a heady, operatic, high-art atmosphere, created by its careful milieu-property of the rich Milanese dynasty at its centre; there’s also the unabashed sensuality with which Guadagnino renders the tastes and power struggles of that world, espousing a Romanticism that has perhaps become unfashionable’.

With words of praise such as ‘Sprawlingly ambitious’ and ‘Ravishingly beautiful’ coming from almost every critic from Paris to Los Angeles, the intoxicating effect of this resplendent piece of art-house cinema was clear for all to see, appearing to bewitch even those who had previously regarded art-house as just confectionery for the movie snob, the very effect which the makers of the film had set out to achieve.

I Am Love was not, as many would assume, a mere flash in the pan. 2010 has seen a resurgence of films from Hollywood, continental Europe, and beyond where the evocative elements of aesthetics played a key role in their success, standing out from the crowd. In the early months of the year was A Single Man written, produced, and directed by former Gucci guru Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, the film focused on a grief-stricken professor who contemplates suicide after the tragic death of his boyfriend in a car crash and the further frustration of being a gay man in the restrictive environment of early 1960s California. It was described in The Times as ‘A thing of heart-stopping beauty’ and ‘Seductive and visually enthralling’ by CNN, albeit not just for the superb writing and acting, but for its seamlessly-detailed production, which was given an equal amount of attention by Ford.

As the months went on, a cornucopia of European and Middle Eastern films hit the multiplexes, including Vincere directed by Marco Bellocchio and starring Italian stage legend Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi. Others included Austrian Lourdes directed by Jessica Hausner and Israeli Eyes Wide Open directed by Haim Tabakman. Even the old masters such as Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) and Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy) toyed with the more romantic elements of high production.

It’s not just in Hollywood and the high-culture bastions of mainland Europe that filmmakers are bringing beauty back to the big screen, but in Britain too. Looking at the upcoming offerings from BBC Films, there is Rowan Joff’s adaption of the classic Graham Greene novel Brighton Rock and West is West, Ayub Khan-Din’s follow-on from his 1999 debut East is East.

Perhaps this magnificent renaissance could be attributed to the feeling that in the wake of the global financial crises, the film industry has become the whipping boy of governmental culling departments the world over. As cuts in government funding for the arts have come thick and fast, more rigorously than any other, the film industry in particularly is predicted to shrink dramatically. In Britain alone, the beating heart of the industry—the British Film Institute—which since its inception in 1933 has encouraged the distribution, promotion, and archiving of British and world cinema throughout the United Kingdom and beyond, has faced a withdrawal of a gargantuan £45,000,000 government pledge. There are also further worries that the BFI may be scrapped all together, and this could be just one of many blows as the once-cushioning effect of private funding looks just as uncertain. Not only in Britain, but across the world, the film industry is facing some very rough seas ahead, financially and also from the increasing beast of piracy: in June of this year, it was revealed that piracy is the greatest threat to Bollywood’s revenue.

Cinema is often described as a swinging pendulum, swaying from one dominant style to the other, but with the situation in cinema being so dire, the pendulum is swinging towards a style which has not been seen for many years. Those who once put ambitions of creating lavish cinematic gems, aiming for true box office success, aside and stuck to tried and tested methods, topped with a ‘Don’t put your head over the parapet’ mentality, are now re-igniting the fire of creativity. Perhaps it is because the foundations of the film industry itself are under threat from all areas, the urge to create beauty on screen is no longer the preserve of Merchant-Ivory, but the contemporary solution to weathering the storm.

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Written under a Creative Commons License, with edits: https://cretivecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/

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