Film review: The Great Beauty

Yesterday afternoon, all of a sudden, my Facebook wall has been invaded by posts concerning “The Great Beauty”. So I gathered that italian TV was broadcasting the movie.
I also gathered that nearly nobody (in my non-representative sample of the Italian population) had seen the movie when it was in theatres.
The comments ranged from “it’s boring” to “it has no plot”, to end up with “THIS movie a Oscar winner? REALLY!?!”
This reaction is not really surprising, as Italians love to go against the tide, and despise what is elsewhere celebrated.
Plus the movie is a strong critic of Italian society, and Italians don’t love being exposed and criticized: the mass is going to divide into those who reject the criticism and become offensive toward the critic, and those who support the critic and become offensive towards the others.

Me, I only review a movie: I think Sorrentino’s portray of the decline of Italian culture is very true, and I think that this doesn’t automatically makes his movie a great one.

Just to make sure that there are no misinterpretations on whose Great Beauty it is, in the very first scene we see a Far East tourist group close to the Fontanone, enjoying the view of Roma from the Gianicolo. Too much beauty for one of them, who falls, struck by a heart attack.
Then we get to meet Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) at his 65th birthday party: no fine dining and elegant conversation in a classy restaurant. Instead we see a disco on the roof of a building, in a very long, claustrophobic (which is remarkable, as we’re on an open attic!) sequence among trash music, sweat and alcohol, exhausted women with melted make-up, pathetic men hanging around beautiful young girls, strip-tease performances behind a glass window, and every other boorish thing one can imagine.
Jep Gambardella has written just one acclaimed novel “L’apparato umano” when he was very young, and lived off of it ever since; when he came to Roma from his small town, he decided that he wanted to be “il re della mondanità romana”, the king of the roman mundane scene, and he did.
Nowadays he writes for the cultural section of a newspaper (the scene of the performance of Talia Concept at the Acquedotto is my favourite), but mainly he wastes his days in his sweet idleness or in futile occupations with his circle of “friends”.
Jep is better than them: he’s clever, he’s sharp. And he knows he’s better: he chose to surround himself with losers.
Deep down, when he takes his insomniac early morning strolls in a deserted Roma, Jep knows that he’s alone and empty, surrounded by superficiality and vacuity. It has been his choice, but somehow he still longs for the purity of his first love, of his younger self and of his talent.
These are the moments when Roma’s Great Beauty still emerges between the tourists, and the traffic, and the decay, and the everyday routine of the people living in the city.
In the end, maybe he decides that he’ll write again, or maybe not.
But to reach the end, we go though a series of situations: a sexual encounter with a beautiful Isabella Ferrari; the conversations with his only friend, a good Carlo Verdone in the role of a loser poet defeated by Roma; the encounter with an aging stripper (Sabrina Ferilli) that is saving for her sickness; a funeral where Jep enacts the etiquette script he has described in the previous scene; a dinner with a cardinal more interested in food than faith and an extremely old saintly nun; the arrest for mafia of his neighbour, and countless parties and drinks on Jep’s terrace overlooking the Colosseo.

As I already said, I don’t think this is a great movie, but surely it’s a big one: a budget not common in Italian cinema. This surely is a reason to see it.
The second reason is the beautiful way in which my beautiful city is photographed (by Luca Bigazzi).
For the rest, honestly, nearly 2 1/2 hours are long to endure. And, as in “This must be the place”, many situations don’t add anything to the definition of the characters.
But there is a third reason to see this movie: ambition. The ambition of Sorrentino to shoot a picture that will be forever remembered as “The way we were”, in Italy, in 2013.
And I think he did it: I recognize that the movie perfectly portrays the inescapable decay of my country, its brutish decadence and its mock-cinic apathy.
Is this enough to make it a msterpiece, a deserving Oscar winner?
I don’t know: it is clear to me, is that this is a very local film: it must be very hard to understand all the hidden meanings if you don’t speak Italian, and even harder to catch all the details if you don’t live in Italy.
How it won the Oscar is a mistery to me.

Mark: 7 / 10


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