Here we are,15 years after Benigni’s “Beautiful Life“, another Italian movie, ” The Great Beauty” won the Oscar for the best foreign language film. It was a very much expected award, at least outside these borders, as the movie is the rare product of the combination of an extremely talented director Paolo Sorrentino, a masterly interpretation of Tony Servillo as Jep Gambardella and the most amazing actress ever: Rome.
Rome has a double symbology here: it’s the breathtaking “great beauty” with its architecture, churches, fountains, cloisters, squares that Sorrentino skillfully uses as a never-ending sequence of postcards to enthrall the spectators; but Rome is also the capital, the centre of power and the Vatican, the higher expression of moral degradation and spiritual decay, which attracts and deceives the vast multitudes of gross people who come here with the hope to find that something that may give sense to their hollowness. Beauty and vulgarity, dream and bitter realism overlap, and Rome is there, indifferent and beautiful.
This double symbology is soon introduced by Sorrentino. In fact the movie opens on a group of Japanese holidaymakers who are listening to their guide’s explanations. One of them leaves his friends to admire in silence the stunning view of the town and he is so overwhelmed by its beauty to die. Soon after Sorrentino takes us to the crowded, opulent party which celebrates Jep Gambardella‘s 65th birthday, the central character of the movie . Like the Great Gatsby he makes his appearance after several minutes of frantic dances with the hypnotizing soundtrack of the famous Italian icon Raffaella Carrà. Jep had arrived in Rome in his late twenties and he had been soon absorbed by the jet-set party life. Jep is a journalist and writer of only one novel, which had become a best seller. Even if in some aspects he seems to evoke the character of Marcello Mastroianni in “la Dolce Vita“, his approach to life is more disenchanted and detached. He is the impassive spectator of the vacuous depressive humanity who surrounds him and finds in amusement, the only way to forget the failures and the senselessness of their lives.
In my opinion Sorrentino is largely indebted toTony Servillo, who took part in almost all of his movies and is a sort of “fetish actor” for him. Charismatic and touching at the same time, Servillo ranges from a sarcastic to an introspective tone with his snobbish Neapolitan accent, with the result that you cannot but hang on every word he says as if hypnotized. The cast is particularly rich, as many famous Italian actors wanted to be part of the movie even only for a “cameo”, a short appearance. However two of them, Sabrina Ferilli e Carlo Verdone, who are very popular here,seem to have been quite disappointed when they knew that hadn’t been invited to the Oscar night. I can understand them.
I have to say that “The Great Beauty” has been more appreciated by the critics abroad than here. The dreamlike narrative tone, the nonsensical characters and the homage to the Eternal City have seemed nothing but a revival of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita“, “Roma“, “Otto e Mezzo” and many others. Even after the victory, criticism hasn’t stopped. Ah, envy!
If you want to see of the locations of the Great Beauty click on the link.