THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso
The film opens with a lavish rooftop party in Rome, and I thought “I would give anything to go back there right now.” I flew out to Rome on Christmas Day 2004, and it was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Jep Gambardella (Servillo) is a writer and journalist celebrating his 65th birthday with another wild and crazy party. There are burlesque dancers, drugs, liquor, interesting characters, and even a self-proclaimed dwarf who happens to be his editor. Jep has only written one novel but is continually questioned about when he will write another one. Unfortunately, finding the motivation to write said novel is stopping this literary genius from his next big hit. In the meantime, he is stuck interviewing random people like a performance artist who bangs her head against a cement column while naked. He sees right passed her “art” and refuses to ask the questions she would like to answer. Jep is stuck at that inevitable crossroads where the eccentric parties and extravagant lifestyle are no longer fulfilling in life. He spends his free time traveling the streets rediscovering the architecture, museums, and artistry of the city and reflects on the interesting and indulgent life he has led.
This is the first film I have seen by Paolo Sorrentino or Toni Servillo. Servillo has previously worked with Sorrentino on four films including Il Divo and The Consequences of Love. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, another Sorrentino collaborator, exquisitely captures that beauty of Rome the film asks you to notice. Jep’s apartment overlooks the Colosseum which is stunning to see, especially during the nighttime party scenes. As someone that loves to travel it was sublime to view all of the beautiful shots of the city and the history it has to offer. Like Sorrentino states, it is easy to get wrapped up in your everyday life or dive deep into the parties we tend to throw ourselves. When you step back to think about it, there is a sad quality to it when you think about these aging characters or the people you know in life that will be forever 21 in their attitude and philosophies about life.
I think it is important for any movie goer to experience something a little different or may be outside their comfort zone. I love foreign films, yet somehow do not see nearly as many as I would like to. The film opens with a quote from Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, “To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.” This quote struck me as I love to travel and soak up as much of the culture and beauty in any given place I venture to. It was quite my bad luck as there were two gentlemen that came in late to the movie and were trying to sit right in front of me as this quote was appearing on screen. They proceeded to slowly take their coats off and settle in to which I had to move and adjust around them just to read the quote as they took forever to sit down. Why do all of the talkers and late comings always seem to gravitate toward me. I digress.
You may hear about The Great Beauty more and more if you follow any of the critics Top 10 lists or awards ceremonies. The film is the official selection for Italy for the Academy Awards and has been nominated for The Golden Globes for Best Foreign Film. It is also receiving many comparisons to Fellini and his classic, La Dolce Vita. The two and a half hour run time feels a bit long at times, but with Servillo’s performance and the city of Rome on display, there is enough beauty to soak up and indulge in.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)