The post’s title appears misleading, but it’s not entirely off the mark. Director Paolo Sorrentino may not have set-out to reinterpret a Fellini masterpiece through his “La grande bellezza” [Eng. Title: The Great Beauty], but there are striking similarities between the two that won’t go unnoticed. Sorrentino’s vast and intricate mosaic – of Life, Rome, and her people, is perhaps the more melancholic of the two, partly due to the central character Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) being a magazine columnist in his mid sixties, and more mature than La Dolce Vita’s Marcello.
Jep, single, is part of the Roman elite; moving among the movers and shakers of the eternal city, and ageing rather reluctantly along with his circle of vain friends – male and female, sinners and cardinals. Wiser than them, he revels in mocking their little insecurities – wealth and privilege notwithstanding, and undeniably basks in their company – he needs them as a ego-fix as much as they rely on his wisdom. He parties through life with feigned enthusiasm, only too ready to admit the shallowness of it all. We learn through the course of the film, that the reason he hadn’t written a book since his critically acclaimed novel forty years earlier, was because he hadn’t found anything worthwhile to write about – something inspiring and of great beauty (hence the title). And when he eventually learns how to find it, he will also be ready to start writing again…
It is the second half of the film that sets it apart – the first half mainly shows him in his physical and social environment, it will shape into an emotional journey of discovery with metaphysical and philosophical overtones – of people he never knew existed, of feelings he’d never seen in others, and himself. The message is deep, but also accessible to average viewers – at least there is nothing cryptic or bizarre as you’d see in a Fellini work. But there are also meaningful references made in almost every scene, due to which one would want to revisit the film more than once.
The film’s technical aspects are a joy to behold, from the cinematography with its exquisite tracking camera, to the extravagant and eclectic music – so effective in places that they don’t need dialogues or virtuoso performances to explain what’s going on. But the performances are exceptional too, with a special mention for Carlo Verdone who displays a versatility I don’t remember seeing – he plays Jep’s close friend and colleague Romano, and Sabrina Ferilli in an understated role as Ramona, the daughter of one of Jep’s friends. Toni Servillo, a class act on any day and a Sorrentino regular, makes the character of Jep all his own. But if I choose to remember anything about the film years from now, it’ll likely be the haunting original music by Lele Marchitelli, and the long final tracking shot as the credits start rolling – the camera meanders through a stretch of the river Tiber, crossing under arched bridges and giving us a memorable view, of a Rome waking up to what promises to be another glorious summer’s day. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Sabrina Ferilli, Isabella Ferrari, Anita Kravos, Galatea Ranzi, Giulia Di Quilio, and Annaluisa Capasa
The film has brief scenes of nudity from the above actresses, but the most notable ones are from Anita Kravos (as a performance artist), Galatea Ranzi (as Jep’s friend Stefania), and Sabrina Ferilli performing a striptease, shown mostly in silhouette – for someone approaching fifty, she’s got a fine figure, me thinks.