The Great Beauty (Sorrentino’s take on La Dolce Vita) is a statement on the socio-cultural state of Italy by examining the exquisiteness of its decay. When Italian author Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) turns 65 he begins to examine his nocturnal present, a lavish life consisting mainly of an extravagant, lively nightlife. Through keenly examining his present as well as his past he comes to extraordinary conclusions on Italy, beauty and himself.
Firstly, the film begins with quotations from Céline’s Journey to the end of the night, particularly striking was the following: “our journey is entirely, imaginary, which is its strength”. This is almost a slogan giving us more information on what’s to come. Imagination gifts us with the ability to envision anything even if we are yet to physically witness it. This capability of creating whatever circumstance we want in our mind allows us to change our lives on a micro and macro level. Sorrentino shepherds us into creating and imagining so we can be impacted by the true potency of the film.
Toni Servillo provides us with an urbane, suave Jep Gambardella. Another magnetic character animated via another all-star performance by Toni Servillo. Yet another loyal collaboration with Sorrentino. Jep’s dialogue is charming and comic. All the way throughout the film the dialogue seems to provide a stylish, confluent tone to the film. Although the dialogue may not be particularly realistic its fiction envelopes truths. What I also think is so wonderful about the development of the character is that the fact that he lives in Rome geographically speaking is irrelevant to him. Rather, what seems fundamental to him, is that he almost exists in Rome not as a city but as a community, a culture. This habitat gives birth to the ecosystem of disintegrating artists and wonderfully interesting characters that shape his world. An ecosystem although viewed as a bigger picture is absolutely interdependent on the individuals that it consists of. This is apparent by the emphatic use of character in this film.
The cinematography is Malick-esque but also has accents of Sorrentino’s role model Fellini. Sorrentino sticks to his guns not only with his long-time producers Francesca Cima and Nicola Giuliano, and main man Toni Servillo, but also with dependable cinematographer Luca Bigazzi. This allowed Sorrentino to easily place trust in the performance of all these collaborators leading to the realisation of an honest body of work. The cinematography shows this just as well as every other medium. Hardly ever staying still, the camera is constantly moving providing coverage in the most inventive of ways. The lighting is dynamic, every shot seems to ooze a musical imagery.
All the way throughout the film, Jep is either alone strolling the streets of Rome or with a group of the remaining curious characters. This alone conveys the apparent themes of the sacred and the profane. A part of European sociology highlighting the ideas that life consisting of unity and individualism. This seems to be something Sorrentino is hugely attentive of. No medium represents this better than the music. A mixture of operatic score and European techno music, the soundtrack narrates the story through these themes Sorrentino makes so important.
What’s more, the plot is a personal one with subtle emotional charge outfitted in extravagant, riotous imagery. The plot is enormously charismatic typical of the director and many other European cultural commentaries. One thing that could be wished for is a stronger narrative spine, more structure. This in my opinion would have served to provide a clearer purpose and backbone to the film.
The Great Beauty shows its understanding that there is a need for artistic purpose and conflict in our lives, but replies with the requirement not to get lost in oneself and to recognise the human need for collectivism. The film is at its very core a social study. Ultimately a celebration of unity and individualism and how beauty overlaps between both of them. A celebration of life. This film delivers style and substance, a true embodiment of brains and beauty.
Guest Authors Bio
My name is Yahia El-Tanani and I’m a 20-year-old Biomedical Sciences student at Newcastle University, England. I’m an avid artist and gym-goer. But I really enjoy the small things in life like firm handshakes, good food and hard work, and I hate (and I mean I hate) roses. More importantly than all of that is that I bleed film. Film is my passion, and I’m driven to become a positive influence and voice in the film industry. I’m exactly what it says on the tin. But enough small talk, go follow me on social media and don’t be afraid to have a chat. Why not be two complete strangers discussing our love for film?
Ps. Email is the quickest way to reach me J.