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Is there any other film that sums up 'Divine Decadence' as lusciously as
this? Better films, perhaps. Deeper films, most definitely. Yet for
succulent visual splendour, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi's tale of decaying
nobility takes a lot of beating.
As a womanising aristocrat who falls prey to a hopeless love, Terence Stamp bears an eerie resemblance to Boldini's portrait of Robert de Montesquiou, the real-life model for Marcel Proust's doomed aesthete the Baron de Charlus. The story too unfolds along Proustian lines. Meeting a 'respectable' middle-class girl (Laura Antonelli) and her none-too-bright fiance (Michele Placido) Stamp loses his heart - only to learn she is really a high-class prostitute.
This being an Italian film, his growing obsession takes on a darker and more melodramatic tone than anything in Proust. Stamp makes an abortive bid to poison his lady-love, infiltrates her brothel as an anonymous client and manoeuvres her into a twisted sexual triangle with his unsavoury, Fascist-sympathising cousin (Marcello Mastroianni). As we may expect, the emotional decadence of these three characters mirrors the political decay of Italy itself. The final orgy concludes with a group of jaded voluptuaries drunkenly singing 'Giovinezza!' - the anthem of Mussolini's blackshirts.
A dark and faintly nasty story, yet one that is overpoweringly gorgeous to behold. The walls of Stamp's villa glow with Art Nouveau paintings by Klimt and Moreau, and these set a visual style for the entire film. Every single frame shimmers with exotic colours, voluptuous flowers and jewelled surfaces. Intertitles (as in a silent movie) spice up the narrative with quotations from Pushkin and Stendhal, Baudelaire and Mallarme and, of course, Proust. Costume designer Gabriella Pescucci may, in fact, be the film's real star - her clothes are so elegant and atmospheric, they could act out the story with no help from the actors.
Not that such a cast would ever get lost amid the costuming. A famous dandy in his off-screen life, Stamp seems to exude anguished elegance from every pore. Mastroianni is wondrously sleazy and reptilian. As for Antonelli, she has only ever been famous for her looks - yet her ruthless man-eater in this film, followed by her role as a wronged and virtuous wife in Visconti's The Innocent, mark her out as an actress of range, subtlety and depth. For an added touch of glamorous depravity, the demon-eyed Tina Aumont - as seductive and fragrant as a poisonous orchid - plays an unbilled cameo as a lady of the night.
It pains me to realise The Divine Nymph is a largely-forgotten film, that Patroni Griffi is an unsung genius who now directs 'live-action' opera broadcasts for TV. Like his 1971 film 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Divine Nymph is as visually gorgeous as any piece of cinema ever made. As a study in high-class decadence and decay, it holds its own with the best of Visconti and Ophuls. As a portrait of the 1920s - a particularly sick and seductive era in Italian and world history - it may be the best of its kind.
They were called Women in Love,The Great Gatsby,Day of the Locust,Glissando,Valentino,Star!,Cabaret,Boulevard Du Rhum,Lucky Lady and so on. But another movie depicting the excessive and addictive adventure called the roaring twenties was largely forgotten and underrated. Divina Creatura is,in fact,a masterpiece and Patroni Griffi,its director equals Fellini,Bolognini and Visconti both in psychological depth and the portrayal of the decadent Italian aristocracy. Often this film has been criticized for various reasons: 1.nothing ever happens-nothing but the lavish,kingly boredom of some decadent members of the upper crust 2.the story is,at a closer look,plain and commonplace-you wouldn't need such an all-star cast and opulent settings just to depict love's labors lost of certain characters,which,to our disappointment,in spite of their privileged background repeat a story typical for every time and place where men and women exist. If at first look these two accusations might be true,from the first scenes this film proves the opposite.settings are superb,filmed in a way only European cinema can,almost every scene being visually a feast,exhaling that Mediterranean,baroque,antique,colorful and sometimes melancholic beauty of the settings often used in Italian cinema(this film was partly shot in a palace in Palermo,the ultra-sophisticated Grand Hotel Villa Igiea,probably not far from that used in Visconti's Gattopardo).Besides the storyline must be stressing upon the (apparently)unimportant little conflicts and pleasures of aristocratic life.To depict all these details with care and combine them into an accomplished work of art-this is what Patroni Griffi is achieving,where other filmmakers might fail. A story about the twenties doesn't need to be necessarily very profound,rather a lavish feast for the senses will do. The cast is marvelous and richly fulfilling:Ternce Stamp as Dany Bagnasco exhales the same elegant style Visconi's Fabrizio Di Salina from Il Gattopardo or Tullio Hermil from Innocente does-the same fascination for sensuality,luxury,death as a voluptuous dissipation,dandy-ism.Whereas Laura Antonelli almost equals Garbo in the part of the divine,chillingly distant,yet vulnerable femme fatal-actually the part would have fitted Garbo perfectly,would the film have been made decades earlier. The quotes in silent movie style prove that this film has a high intellectual level,while the visual impact is one of the most beautiful in movie history:it's worth watching almost only for the settings,irrespective of the storyline.Perfect for the moviegoers who enjoy Italian&European cinema,for all readers of literature dealing with aristocratic life(Zuccoli the writer of the novel which was turned into this film was also an aristocrat,count Luciano Von Ingenheim)like Turgheniew,Proust,D'Annunzio,Lampedusa,of literature about the roaring twenties(Fitzgerald,D.H.Lawrence),of authors like Thomas Mann,Nabokow,Moravia. My absolute favorite!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Does a corpus of aesthetically acceptable decadent cinema, or a cinema
of beauty in abundance and sharp human observationmovies of rich human
and psychological content that take a decided aestheticisminformed
stance, exist? At a first sight, the answer is far from obvious.
There are a number of decadent wannabe directors, yet obviously too uncultured and incompetent to may raise any significant claim. The genre requires subtlety, sharpness, intelligence, taste, finesse, vigor.
The primary thing to be acknowledged is that DIVINA is not a _bibelot or a highly decorated , ornate oddity ,but a true strong insightful drama.
Take a look, if you please, at Wikipedia's article about master Stampthere, DIVINA CREATURA is not even mentioned! Obviously, the authors (whom I most wrongly presumed to take some degree of interest into Stamp's career ) of that article found this film to be negligibleafter all, it's only Stamp's leading role in the most beautiful movie ever! I assumed a Stamp fan ought to be particularly sensitive about each and every Stamp leading roleI presume they're not so many, after all .
DIVINA CREATURA is a cherished, lovable wonder of emotional richness; it's as well a commending film, deeply respectable for its craftsmanship and competence. Style and content, to use this wornout dichotomy, are equally commending and important and of vigorous beauty.
Movies being so expensive an amusement or creation, it seems unlikely that a man of professed decadent and individualistic profile such as Griffi would find a way to work in this unaffordable branch where almost every effort must become a collective one. (Even as an art, cinema is not for the individualists, and Griffi was resolutely one. There are, of course, Welles, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Antonioni, etc., also the great independents and experimentersyet, Griffis' case is a peculiar and highly instructive one. In the sense that his independent credo demanded the considerable budgets of the financially successful independentswithout having their financial success. Look at DIVINA CREATURAit boasts in a marvelous castthree great actorsStamp, Mme. Antonelli and Mastroianni! And then, he was a resolute decadent, leaving no room for the partial comprehension and misunderstandings that sometimes manage to bring some fame to other independents. He is the impeccable cinematographic equivalent of the most uncompromising literary _decadentismand he managed to get his movies done!) His is the decadent-ism of an insider ,like that of Visconti, and unlike the fake _decadentism of more pedestrian or exploitative directors. Griffi gives the decadent-ism its purest expression, and makes it a joy to speak about such things .
Yet, decadent is a way of speaking; DIVINA amazes by its assured, virile and masterful tone and diction. As art, as craft, it is very sane and strong. Also, its content ,its insight are imposing. If we are to continue using the D word, then Griffi it's decadent the way the greatest, from Balzac and Lampedusa to Visconti, were. DIVINA is not morally corrupt; on the contrary, it's vigorous and insightful and detached. The emotional richness that I have indicated is very appropriately served by this detached attitude of Griffi.
It takes many things to be imposing; like the best directors in their best hours, Griffi gathered them all. His style is sharp, cold and inspired, if these can be conceived together. The result is poetry. Griffi's style enhances the valences of his content. Using an uncompromisingly ironic and detached style, of cold observation, the emotional richness is much enhanced.
Back to the main actorsStamp's role is one of surgical, cold precision; Mastroianni gives truly his best here, in a quite large and substantial part; while Mme. Laura Antonelli proves to be a firstclass actress. DIVINA CREATURA is a hallmark of uncompromising aestheticism ,where content more than equals (and fits ) the style; it is not a vain exercise, it is poetry. Visually rich, it's also rich psychologically, analytically, emotionally. And Griffi uses a nonchalance that serves the movie. The stylistic results are delightfulthe movie is suspenseful, amusing, intelligent, relentlessly interesting. The point is that the man has the heart, while the woman has the body (the same in Le Jour Se Lève or in Gegen Die Wand).
DIVINA is the opposite of what is called, condescendingly, a small movie; on the contrary, it is a large, imposing, aweinspiring one. It is a notable experience. As a side effect, it's also a needed antidote to the prevalence of movies about amorphous people.
DIVINA ,by its discrete subtlety and sure perspicacity, is a reminder that the European cinema was a most distinct world. Be it that we may serve at least by word this legacy.
My beginning as an Europhile and Anglophile were when, at 18, I realized I could resume the best of the world's cinema in only three names (a Swedish, a Spanish and a Japanese one). Later, I indulged in the ingenuity of some snappy Americanophiles, yet without a true inner assent. In the European cinemaand mostly in that of the pastI have all that I need, from Tarkovski to the genre movies of the '50s'80s.
DIVINA is a movie of infinite beauty. Griffi was a director of intelligence, insight and depth.
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