Images of particle physics

Valerio Jalongo's documentary 'CERN and the sense of beauty'

These days, the Swiss-Italian documentary 'CERN and the sense of beauty' will be screened in selected Swiss cinemas. The work of the Italian director Valerio Jalongo combines images from the particle physics research laboratory with nature photographs and with works of art, leading to a subjective and idiosyncratic meditation on knowledge and beauty.

CERN & Beauty photo

Four years ago, the American film director and physicist Mark Levinson released the documentary 'Particle Fever' (link). The film was essentially based on statements from a selected number of CERN physicists who had contributed to the spectacular discovery of the Higgs particle in 2012. Now another movie deals with physics research at CERN. The Swiss-Italian co-production with the somewhat striking title 'CERN and the sense of beauty' (link) was directed by Valerio Jalongo, a trained philosopher born 1960 in Rome. Like 'Particle Fever', the film aspires not only to present scientific work, but also asks about its significance for society.

Associations instead of a narrative structure

Despite these parallels, the two films cover science and research in very different ways: 'Particle Fever' had a recognizable dramaturgy. This resulted from the multi-year and sometimes obstructed efforts, which finally led to the experimental evidence of the Higgs particle in 2012; a particle, which had been postulated by theorists decades ago. Such a narrative is not given in 'CERN and the sense of beauty'. The film does not tell a story, but combines CERN pictures, fascinating nature shots, and images as well as animations from a dozen artists who got inspired by CERN research that resulted into an association of a pictures dance.

Although the film by Valerio Jalongo uses documentary material, it is not a documentary in a narrow sense. The director takes the liberty to combine images and reflexive texts into a suggestive piece of work. The final product is not a reality-based documentary, but rather a meditation on knowledge and beauty. Typical of this associative approach is the structure of the film in nine parts. Each part carries its own title opening up for a wide range of interpretations, e.g. "The Mirror of the World" or "Measure of Beauty".

Physicists using another language

Those who would like to inform themselves about CERN and particle physics will not really get their money's worth with 'CERN and the sense of beauty'. But those who want to get involved in a patchwork that combines images of science with images about science, underlined by aesthetic-philosophical narrative, immerse in a fascinating and maybe even meaningful world. Sometimes, the film has rather quick cuts and is overloaded here and there with facts and slang from physical research. But it holds for those viewers who let themselves getting involved in the kaleidoscopic imagery of the movie, to which it provides plenty of inspirations.

The physicists quoted in the movie are contributing to its quality: The scientists do not use their language of mathematical abstraction and on which they relay in their scientific activity. They rather engage in thinking about the societal significance of their work and are reflecting on the parallels between the scientific and the artistic way to understand the world.

Author: Benedikt Vogel

Duration: 75 minutes

Cinema release: 5. 4. 2018 (German-speaking Switzerland); 12.04.2018 (Italian Switzerland); 18.04.2018 (Western Switzerland).


  • Art
  • Theater and Cinema