Film Reviews: The Great Beauty / The Act of Killing

Stuck for Sunday entertainment? These two films – one documentary, one fictional – are perfect for curling up on the sofa and losing yourself. But perhaps best watched once the kids are in bed. The Great Beauty and The Act of Killing, as reviewed by Bruce Collier…

This week, Bruce Collier reviews nostalgia-inducing Italian film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) and BAFTA-winner for Best Documentary The Act of Killing

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) (2013)

The Great Beauty is the 10th offering from seasoned Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino. Sorrentino employs a familiar, family-like cast to tell the tale of an ageing Corinthian man, Jep, as he turns 65.

We travel through his mondaine Rome and its degradation into a world of narcissism, mental illness, lust, beauty, melancholy. It’s like walking through the back doors of a crumbling high-class Italy, and seeing the roots rotting as the leaves on the surface maintain their same, shiny façade.

If the film were a feeling, it would be akin to looking through old photos on a red wine hangover, whilst a cat warms your feet next to a log fire. In the distance, the sun sets over your first holiday romance. Nostalgia-inducing warm thoughts linger long after the film finishes.

The Act Of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing, by director Joshua Oppenheimer – with Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers – won a well-deserved BAFTA for Best Documentary. An exposé on the Indonesian genocides of 1965; it’s one of the most emotive, unique, thought provoking and brutal social interest films I’ve ever seen.

Oppenheimer approaches the subject in a raw, DIY style that adds to the grit of the film. It tackles the subject of genocide via the self-proclaimed “gangsters” who committed mass murders with their bare hands. They were never held accountable for these crimes; instead they were seen as heroes and celebrated for their actions.

The (real-life) gangsters are encouraged to recreate moments of the atrocities by directing bizarre re-enactments – in the style of their favourite American gangster films. This creates a suitably surreal and frenetic setting for a long overdue analysis of the heinous crimes took place. It’s powerful.

The brutality of The Act of Killing is in stark contrast to the warm nostalgia of The Great Beauty. If it were to be compared to anything, it would be the hyper-violent exposure scene in A Clockwork Orange, mixed with a hearty helping of Art Therapy.