I recently watched Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and am in awe. The film is worth seeing, if only for the glamorous scenes of Rome it offers. Read any blog about this film, and you are guaranteed to see overtures to the imagery. I had never had a particular interest in traveling to Rome; after viewing this film, however, Italy just got bumped to the top of my bucket-list.
Many of the reviews of The Great Beauty focus on the film’s similarity to La Dolce Vita. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen La Dolce Vita, but the best explanation I’ve read is: “‘Beauty’ can be read as an update of ‘La Dolce Vita,’ but while it is definitely Fellini-esque, it’s also a crystallization of Sorrentino’s own distinctive style.” Sorrentino’s style certainly is unique: the film’s main character, Jep Gambardella, lives in the heart of Rome, spending his time going to parties and living the kind of life most of us only dream about. Accompanying Jep is a whole list of unique characters, all of whom have what some might call character defects, who live in a contemporary world of decadence.
The film is simultaneously uplifting and sad. On the one hand, the images of Rome are beautiful. These fantastic views are accompanied by a diverse soundtrack; there’s plenty of dance music and classical music, as well as some contemporary pieces. The music contributes greatly to the mood, as is evident during one scene at a roof-top party. Throughout the film, the mood is brought down by a choir singing “The Lamb,” which starts off mellow enough, but by the end, becomes melancholy.
The Great Beauty resonated well with me, largely because of the cynicism and apathy it presents the viewer. Throughout the film, Jep is amazed at the hypocrisy of those around him; so many people think they’re better than the rest, and that they should be praised for their accomplishments. At one point, Jep has heard enough and calmly insults a pompous acquaintance for her hypocrisy, finishing the conversation by stating: “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?”
The film also shows how love can affect us. Forty years prior, Jep had been in love with a girl, who he learns has died. The love that Jep lost out on haunts him; it affects his relationships with other women, and thrusts him into deep moments of nostalgic regret. Jep, at age 65 realizes that he has possibly lived a life void of fulfillment, and concludes that he can no longer live his life doing things he isn’t really interested in doing.
The Great Beauty is about viewing life in retrospect and realizing that we’ve made mistakes and need to change the way we live. For Jep, this means turning the page and embarking on a journey that will hopefully bring him fulfillment. I’d highly recommend this film for the scenery alone. Film buffs are sure to enjoy it, given Sorrentino’s unique style of filming, use of color, and music. Fashionistas will undoubtedly enjoy the film; Jep’s bespoke wardrobe should be the envy of any well-dressed man. The women and the clothes they wear, are well, beautiful. What strikes me the most though, is the film’s message: We’re all unhappy, but be nice to one another, and enjoy life’s absurd moments of love, humor, and beauty.