Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza is a poem about human being’s spiritual evolution and a meditation about solitude of the exceptional people.
Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev has stated a long time ago that Russia can not be understood rationally and grasped with the mind. I have to reject the poet’s privilegy given to Russia by saying that also Italy and especially the film The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino can not be understood rationally as well. Even at the 71st annual Golden Globe awards Sorrentino confessed firmly and shortly that Italia is a crazy but a beautiful country. In many circumstances identified as a new La Dolce Vita, Sorrentino’s masterpiece continues, without any doubt, the Italian cinematographic tradition of the 19th century, the tradition of Italian directors such as Fellini, Rossellini, Antonioni, Scola and Blasetti to name a few, and their visions of “universes” with strong emotions, gaps of life and absurdic tension of love and death. Only one truth is incontestable – each person, each spectator finds own truth, his or her own beauty in this beautiful journey to the end of the hidden levels of our existence and beauty called love.
La Grande Bellezza tells about life of an ageing-man – a journalist and author Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo); about his “style of life” as a dreamer, thinker and party man or rather a king of the Roman “high society” parties (Il re dei mondani). This real elegant dandy organises eccentric, hedonistic and luxury parties in his penthouse apartment opposite the Colosseum and the traces of Via Sacra (Sacred Road) leading from the top of the Capitoline Hill to the Colosseum. I think that it is not a coincidence that Sorrentino has chosen Colosseum because it represents a real symbol of “partying” of the Roman Empire. Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis), a Roman poet is well-known for his statement “Panem et circenses” (“Bread and circuses”). He decries the indifference of common people. Sorrentino’s middle-aged rich people and all these pretenders and story tellers in the film are also indifferent, indifferent even to themselves and their lies. They just dance to electro-pop remix of “We no speak Americano” and snap their fingers at everything. Night long parties are full of contradictions as the novels of Thomas Mann: people are partying but they are not happy; paradoxically, rumours, drugs and Marcel Proust have an important significance in their dialogues or even damned monologues. Jep is nevertheless aware of emptiness of the contemptuous “theatre” and vainglorious chats.
One day an unknown man called Alfredo (Luciano Virgilio) tells Jep that his youth love Elisa has passed away. When Jep gets to know that Elisa (Annaluisa Capasa), despite of a long relation with Alfredo, always loved only him, he becomes more sensible, perceptible and sincere. He begins to feel and to acknowledge the hidden sincerity of human being. The most charming and attractive is that the “mediator” of love and loving is absent physically but only a thought about so long time silently existed love nevertheless lights up Jep’s heart and soul. After such a surprising and unexpected news item Jep does not reject his lifestyle, but he begins to look at it from another perspective – gloomily like Dante and ironically and wittily like Voltaire. He laughs at decadence. One of the most appreciated modern actors of Italy, Toni Servillo manages to create unbelievably paradoxical and authentic character – the character which is, at the same time, unhappily gloom and happily “galant”.
Most of the film Jep is walking around Rome. While taking his long walks Gambardella pays attention to buildings, statues, people and memories. He has bizarrely charming and permanently constant need to look, admire and recall past memories. Rome is the film’s real stage on which a body feels and experience pleasure but a soul is seeking for the beauty and peace of the eternity. Referred to as “the Eternal City” (Roma Aeterna) Rome is not only an ordinary city made of buildings and people, but a complex and temporal path of life, during the course of which people love and hate, recall and forget; are born, living and dying.
The past has quite a great importance in the Italian culture and identity. Each individual little stone situated on the Roman Forum contains an idea of the inseparable connection between the present and the past. Italians and also Jep are holding tight this connection with roots. In the end of the film an old Catholic saint nun Santa Maria (Giusi Merli) declares the importance of the roots, the importance of return to our roots.
The term la grande bellezza can not be translated as ‘great beauty’ in the literal sense of the word. It neither contains only external physical nor inner spiritual beauty. In Sorrentino’s ambivalent great beauty incarnate beauty and ugliness, happiness and sorrow, love and death, present and past, subject and alienation, immanent and transcendent. Director’s way to present and show the film’s events with different “fellinic” tricks is distantly ironic and critical but very detailed at the same time. Jep’s high society “friends” – who favour botox operations – live in the illusion of lust and delight, and do not know what is the real profound remedy for freedom, happiness and truth. Secular mixes with holiness. Even Cardinal Bellucci (Roberto Herlitzka), tipped to be the next pontiff, talks rather about gastronomy and his cooking methods than esoteric truths. Jep doesn’t find people’s inner great beauty that could counterbalance with the vanity.
It is a great joy to follow unique cinematography of Luca Bigazzi accompanied by The Lamb, a choral œuvre d’art written by the English visionary William Blake and composed by Sir John Tavener. Bigazzi does not simply show but he paints a beautiful whole and unity.
Film’s merit doesn’t “hide” ultimately in the enchanting dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, in a giraffe appearing among ruins of the Roman Empire or in the extravagant and crazy nightlife of the high society but in the journey not only to the protagonist’s but also to spectator’s life. The life is not important but the meaning of it that we are trying to find in the labyrinth.
During the last visual passegiata the eternal Tiber river, while ”walking” in step with Vladimir Martynov’s composition The Beatitudes, can not hide everything. I know definitely that Jep has found his significance and the great beauty. He will write his new long-awaited novel, finally.
Official trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dyt430YkQn0
Finisce sempre così. Con la morte. Prima, però, c’è stata la vita, nascosta sotto il bla bla bla bla bla. È tutto sedimentato sotto il chiacchiericcio e il rumore. Il silenzio e il sentimento. L’emozione e la paura. Gli sparuti incostanti sprazzi di bellezza. E poi lo squallore disgraziato e l’uomo miserabile. Tutto sepolto dalla coperta dell’imbarazzo dello stare al mondo. Bla. Bla. Bla. Bla. Altrove, c’è l’altrove. Io non mi occupo dell’altrove. Dunque, che questo romanzo abbia inizio. In fondo, è solo un trucco. Sì, è solo un trucco.