Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) recounts the tale of Jep Gambardella, a sixty-five-year-old journalist whose sole yet highly successful novel has afforded him a dazzling lifestyle amidst the decadent lives of Rome’s upper-class bourgeois. Despite focusing upon a singular protagonist in Jep, and his journey through the opulent yet increasingly hollow lifestyle he has crafted for himself, Sorrentino’s intentions for his narrative are far wider reaching; the director’s intention to offer a commentary, or more accurately, a critique, of Berlusconi era Italy is omnipresent throughout. Nevertheless, despite these underlying motives, Sorrentino’s artistic flair is never crushed beneath the serious message at the heart of The Great Beauty‘s satirical core – but rather utilised as the primary vehicle in translating his voice.
It is no surprise that The Great Beauty is Italy’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards; operatic in terms of scale, performative depth, and the strange dreamlike/nightmarish aura it projects, The Great Beauty is not merely a film, but a cinematic sight to behold. Within the first ten minutes the viewer has already been exposed to death, stunning Italian architecture, an angelic choir, a mariachi band, tattooed strippers, european club beats, and of course the depraved, though somewhat comical activities of Jep and his acquaintances. It’s probably safe to assume that MTV Italy pumps out such striking and quintessentially European visual feasts on a 24/7 basis, yet Sorrentino’s bizarre music video-esque opening immediately stimulates your senses whilst dragging you down into a deep, neon-lit, Martini filled rabbit hole – before firing you out into two hours of the unknown.
The Great Beauty is a transformative piece of cinema, one which gorges both itself and its audience upon a banquet of intoxicating sights, sounds, and styles. It offers a surreal study of masculinity, religion, spirituality, sexuality, and artistic legitimacy amongst a myriad of other hot-button topics and their accompanying issues – of which Jep has many. A series of strong acting performances are constantly present – especially in the case of leading man Toni Servillo – whilst the dialogue dances from enigmatic to comical with the bat of a gorgeous Italian eyelash. Sorrentino’s ability to create stunning imagery is virtuosic, every scene resembling a GQ or Vogue editorial; the stylistic nods to Italian cinematic Godfather Fellini may well be evident, yet Sorrentino’s unique touch never leaves the screen.
The bar is a beautiful place, the churchyard is a beautiful place, the amphitheatre, the broken path, the cloudless sky, all beautiful, thankfully greatness also awaits around every majestic twist and turn of Paolo Sorrentino’s cinematic masterpiece. The Great Beauty is ultimately superlative, or rather, bellissimo.