The Great Beauty (La Grende Bellezza) could easily be called a piece of art, as just like a real work of art it has many layers, dimensions and meanings.
This film is a portrait of a 65 year old writer, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), who was consumed by the pleasures of temporality.
He wrote his first and only novel many years ago and because of its success Jep very quickly became a part of the snobbish, artistic and intellectual scene in Rome. Asked why he never wrote a second novel he answered: “I go out at night too often”.
His main occupation now is to conduct interviews with artists and it is evident that he is not overworked. Jep spends most of his time meeting good old friends, usually to discuss literature, art and gossip. Jep leads a leisurely life filled with brief romances with women, having fun in discotheques and enjoying dinner with celebrities.
This is a portrait of a dandy, a sybarite, who is aware of his position and doesn’t protest. Even if he looks at the world with some sense of distance he has simply accepted his situation and the choices he has made. Moreover, in his frivolous behaviour, there is an absence of rudeness and arrogance despite his lifestyle and as a result he is a person who creates positive emotions.
The most significant moment in the film is when Gambardella gets a message about the death of his first love. He starts to analyse the world, his past and the lifestyle in which he now participates.
Some kind of breakthrough in his view of reality is vividly seen in one of Gambardella’s meetings with his old friends when he states:
“(…) we are all on the verge of despair, the only thing we can do is look yourself in the eye, keep your company, joke a little (…)”. This sentiment is something that recurs throughout the movie.
But what is seen in Gambardella’s attitude is that he does not worry about wasting his life or his talents. He doesn’t change his position at all, even if sometimes there is a glimpse of despair, this feeling is more discrete, more like some kind of subtle melancholy or emotion.
Gambardella continues his slow walks through the beautiful streets of Rome, admiring the beautiful buildings and sculptures, looking very content and thoughtful. He is like a nineteenth century flaneur, an astute observer, conscious of reality, who enjoys watching the city and all that entails.
These walks deliver beautiful photographs, snapshots, intertwined with other images to create postcard-like views of Rome. They provide a background for this movie which in many moments teeters on the edge between being awake and sleeping.
The whole movie is full of great contrasts which are reflected in; its colours; azur sea – grey rocks, green grass – orange peaches, blue sky – black birds, in its music; classic – disco, noise and silence, or the people appearing on screen, nuns wearing snow-white habits, or children associated with purity, innocence in contrast to tanned women from a disco, or a stripper with their botoxed lips, big artificial breasts, expensive clothes and makeup, or in the character of the very old missionary – Mother Teresa like – and an eminent cardinal who talks only about food and is chauffeur driven in his big Royce-Royce.
These images deliver a certain amount of irony mixed with parody but also a longing for something lost and compassionate.
This movie also shows what is hidden behind the noise of disco music, behind this glamour, glitter and pomp. There are emotions and fear, sentiment and silence and the beauty, which not surprisingly escapes the attention of participants in this slightly artificial farce.
The Great Beauty is full of sensual and pulsating images of Rome which in some sense is overwhelmed by the city’s own magnificence. All these images have important meaning moreover they encourage reflection.
This is a movie about humans who have choked on the high life. They are aware of their position and the consequences of this life style. Their attitude is more conciliatory and full of acceptance. The music still plays and they can’t stop dancing…
What astonished me about this film, is the part of society it describes. In Italy such fascination for parties, “glamour, glitter and pomp” is usually associated to industrialists and, regretfully, politicians. In this film, there is a precise “caste” being examined (a part from Lello, the little smarmy toy-producer): the intellectuals’ caste. This is possibly one of the reasons why this film received pretty bad reviews in Italy: some journalists felt quite offended. This movie is a deep reflection on the contemporary moral and social decay situation in Italy.