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It’s all a trick: ‘The Great Beauty’ is beautiful

February 21, 2014

 

'The Great Beauty' – Rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Great Beauty’ – Rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Sadler
Feature Editor

 

The first scene of Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” follows a group of Japanese tourists as they photograph
the fountains of a sunny, beautiful Rome.

 

As one tourist walks away from the group to get a photo of a panoramic view of the city, he drops dead, a victim of Rome’s beauty that eludes the citizens of the city.

 

The scene then cuts to a birthday party atop a Roman villa, where mariachi bands, strippers and artists dance to Italian disco music in celebration of the 65th birthday of Jep Gambardella.

 

Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo, is an aging former novelist coasting on the success of his only published novel, “The Human Apparatus.”

 

Having turned to work as an arts journalist for a high-end Roman magazine, he spends his weekends (and most weeknights) entertaining a cast of wealthy socialites.

 

Portrayed as airheaded and self-righteous, the socialites represent the absolute worst product of an affluent artistic atmosphere.

 

A politically-funded novelist brags about her work output, a lecherous toy salesman makes obscene comments at young women and a vapid ex-actress brags about the novel she will write.

 

Gambardella’s work output has slowed in the years since the publication of his novel, and when asked about his future writing, he responds that Gustave Flaubert (a 19th-Century French writer) tried and was unable to write a book about nothing, so how could he?

 

Gambardella’s underlying existential disgust with his life draws forward nostalgia for a simpler life, which is further intensified when he learns that Eliza, the only woman he has ever loved, has died.

 

Provoking unusual tears from our hero, the scene is followed by a revelation from Eliza’s husband that Eliza wrote in her journals she only ever truly loved Gambardella, a surprise that leaves him shocked.

 

The most human character in the film is Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli), the aging stripper daughter of Gambardella’s old friend. She is financially below the libertine mob surrounding the main character, but emotionally far superior, a naïve but lovely individual offsetting the debauchery.

 

Taking up with Gambardella in a kind of platonic relationship, the two share a scene in which they explore the ancient buildings of Rome.

 

In a contrast to the disgusting traits of the cast of characters, Sorrentino’s vision of Rome is touchingly beautiful. The main character’s love of Rome is evident, and it is evident to the audience why.

 

Rome is above the lascivious actions of its people, and the ancient marble statues and crumbling buildings provide a contrast to the distinctly modern and self-centered view of the main payers.

 

The backdrop also provides an outlet for Gambardella’s longing for his past, a life that had meaning and love.

 

My only complaint with the movie is the heavy-handedness of its message. The message is understood almost immediately, but the next two and a half hours are spent discussing it.

 

Gambardella’s search for meaning takes him on a journey through a magnificently depicted Rome, a city which Sorrentino suggests the Romans never truly see, and alongside a group of characters rapidly hitting an age where their party lifestyle is becoming borderline pathetic.

 

In the words of Gambardella, “We’re all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little… Don’t you agree?”

 

Email comments to jts040@latech.edu

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