THE GREAT BEAUTY
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is extraordinary in its completely different take on the fantasies and experiences of a man in his senescence. This is not the usual old man reminiscing about the past; it is a man of the world in Rome continuing to take in the night life, but beginning to reflect more on what he sees and trying to make sense of it, not only in terms of his own life but in terms of art, philosophy of life, and everyday living. We are with him on this journey, and take in hopelessness (“This is my life. Look at it. It’s nothing.” “Everything around me is dying.” “Who’s going to take care of your now?”), disappointment (“I was looking for the great beauty, but never found it”), and cynicism (the meaningless of art, and maybe it’s all only a trick). But we also see the wonder, the bemused look in his writer’s eye when he senses something new before him, and his thought that “the future is marvelous.” And he makes us chuckle with some of his astute observations. Finally, he says, “Underneath the blah blah blah is life.” Death may be coming, but in the meantime, there is life.
This is a film that calls for repeated viewings on several accounts. One is that the main character, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) throws out pearls of wisdom and witticisms right and left. The subtitles run by so fast, it’s hard even to register them, much less ponder their meaning. Also, he has a way of “showing up” people by reminding them gently and rather humorously about the ruse behind their stories. Because his delivery is so nonaggressive, it does not create a stir in the room. I don’t want to give away the best example of this and ruin the surprise for the viewer. Servillo is a mesmerizing actor, handsome, puckish, and intelligent with perfect timing.
The writer/director Paolo Sorrentino has created a character who gradually delights and warms your heart and makes you want him as a real friend. Sorrentino’s talent (along with the cinematographer’s Luca Bigazzi) has been seen in the U.S. in the fine film, This Must be the Place, starring Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. They are refreshingly creative, and fortunately, their work in this film is being recognized by its nominations for Golden Globes, BAFTA, British Independent Film, Cannes Film Festival, and numerous other awards.
Another reason to view The Great Beauty multiple times beyond the uplifting experience of watching it is the artful cinematography (It truly is like going through an art gallery) and the music by Lele Marchitelli. The Great Beauty is an apt title in every sense of the phrase.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland