Winning International Cinema’s Beauty Contest

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Photo from Janus Films

The most beautiful films are always, in my opinion, the most thought provoking and tend to only do well on the art house cinema circuit. Think films like Melancholia from the controversial director Lars Von Trier, the enchanting yet, at times depressing, Bill Cunningham New York, or the quirky Werner Herzog‘s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The most beautiful film of this category got its due at this year’s Academy Awards where Italian director Paolo Sorrentino‘s La Grande Bellezza (English translation: The Great Beauty) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

On the surface, the film is about Jep Gambardella, a society writer (played by Toni Servillo) turning 65 and reflecting on his lifetime living among the intellectual and powerful of the beautiful city of Rome. He considers himself the king of “the High Life” as he attends and comments on grand parties, theatre, and watches performance art. He does this while rubbing elbows with Catholic clergy, famous authors and actors, and important members of political parties. The film alternates between Jep dealing with growing old, his flashbacks to when he was young, and him doling out witty attacks on people who he believes to be utterly non-sensical.

But below the surface the film really reflects on the lines between vanity and beauty; truth and belief; honesty and reputation. The film simultaneously tells us that we need to enjoy the small (and great) beauties in life while not getting too big for our britches.

The film features the best soundtrack you’ve ever heard paired to a film. Not to mention stunning visuals of some of Rome’s lesser known features and the way the city blends with nature.  The film is full of art from sculptures, clothes, buildings, performances, writings, and plays, to a flock of flamingo’s who stop on the main character’s balcony during their migration.

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Photo from Janus Films

In December, Sorrentino sat down with the Guardian to talk about the film. He said that it was a commentary on Italian society and the film’s main character is meant to express Sorrentino’s own feelings:

“There is a precise correspondence between him and me. The way he feels about people and the heart and parties are very close to me. I am not usually a guy that goes to parties, but many of his ideas are exactly mine.”

Despite being a film that critiques Italian culture, there was much excitement in Italy when the film won its Golden Globe. La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno quoted Rome’s Mayor as saying that

“The triumph of The Great Beauty at the Golden Globes is a source of deep pride for our country and in particular Rome, portrayed in all its extraordinary charm, despite its contradictions”

There was a great blog from Serena at Transparent.com who actually polled a handful of her Italian friends who has seen the film and was kind enough to translate their answers. The answers varied from people loving the film, to being confused by it, to thinking it was overly critical of Italy. The general consensus, though; it was beautiful, but “too long!”

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Photo from Janus Films

My suggestion: make yourself a dry gin martini or grab a crisp bottle of Chardonnay and make an evening out of watching the most beautiful film you’ll ever see. Whether you buy Sorrentino’s critique of Italy or not, you’ll definitely end the evening with a sense of cinematic satisfaction.

The Great Beauty can be streamed from Amazon or downloaded on iTunes. Though if you have the opportunity to see it at a theatre, it is an absolute MUST.