Paolo Sorrentino’s take on modernity and decadence is drenched with style, artistic quality, and a certain poignancy.
The story follows the lavish life of Jep Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo, a journalist living in the very heart of a throbbing populous Rome. We weave through his past and his consequently unfulfilled present; in his 20s he wrote a hugely successful novel that hasn’t received any follow up – he now writes cultural pieces for a newspaper. As he lies in bed with a prostitute he looks to the ceiling and sees a pristinely azure sea, it’s one of a number of romantic recurring scenes in which he revisits an encounter with his first love.
Due to his work, Jep is exposed to several new-wave avant-garde forms of art, from a naked woman propelling herself head first into a brick wall to an enraged infant splattering paint onto canvas in front of a gawking audience.
The film is creating a cultural commentary on the decadence of the image of Rome, once the centre of Western civilisation and the hub of Renaissance art, the cultural scene is represented through bizarre pieces of ‘art’. Jep himself is a characterised manifestation of this decay, a man remembered for an achievement conducted in yesteryear, a mere afterthought. The contrast of his intimate relationship with his first love to the vulgar sexual acts he participates in and watches can be described as the rape of true Italianism.
Of course, a paradoxical and positive note would be that the film itself is a grand work of art itself, juxtaposing the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica to a modern nightclub. It stands out as one of the more successful films to come out of Italy, and could perhaps mark a resurgence of Italian art-house cinema.
A notion which is certainly alluded to in the ending of the film; Jep’s inspiration is reignited by a more wholesome flashback of that faithful encounter and he decides to write his next novel all the mean while a classical piece by the Kronos Quartet is tastefully played over the ending credits to show that there is hope.
I would rate this film very highly for the Best Foreign Language film, though faced with tough opposition, La Grande Bellezza bears an aesthetic perfection that the others lack. After all, it was named the Great Beauty for a reason.
My rating – 9/10