La Grande Bellezza - 2013
AKA The Great Beauty
Written by Paolo Sorrentino & Roberto Contarello
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
It would be easy to dismiss this blogazine as primarily interested in lowbrow genre entertainments. I feel that it would be inaccurate and unfair, but it would be easy, even excusable. So, if for no other reason than rehabilitating that image, I'd like to add a little bit of highbrow fancy-pants foreign cinema to the mix. But, that's not the only reason. The fact is, I saw La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) well over a month ago, and it has continued to resonate with me.
La Grande Bellezza is, in case you had not yet caught on, an Italian film, and it indulges with gusto in the kind of things that set European cinema apart from commercial American film, almost to the point of caricature. That also just happens to be part of its greatness. This film is absolutely head-over-heels in love with Rome, and part of that expression is to be the most Rome it can possibly be, and that includes cloaking itself Fellini-esque cinematic language. This one goes to eleven. Eleven Rome.
And that's apt, because its central character, Jep Gambardella is Eleven Rome. He puts the romantic in roman antics. He even savors his disdain for Rome, for it's the kind of disdain that only someone who loves it and knows it intimately can understand and appreciate. When I say that Jep is central, I mean like the sun. He is the gravity around which the entire film revolves. A case could be made that Jep is the only one we can be certain truly exists, and all others are but part of the Rome he dreams.
The dream metaphor is no coincidence. The entire film has a very dreamlike quality; not so much driven from scene to scene by the demands of plot as strolling through a series of gorgeous locations content that it doesn't need to get anywhere else but where it is in any given moment. Each scene is worthwhile on its own merits, an experience to be drunk in, savored, and allowed to go to one's head. This kind of languorous pacing will irritate and infuriate certain audiences, but let's not talk about them. The wine is kicking in and I can't think of a single reason to invite them over when we're having such a nice time already...
I don't want to suggest that there is no narrative arc to La Grande Bellezza. Jep's seemingly ephemeral wanderings of Rome each key into an ongoing personal development that doesn't really connect until deep into the third act, unlocking that which has remained bound deep inside him. Even then, it still isn't handled in as definitive a manner as your average American film-goer has been trained to expect and thus demand. This is a show, not tell kind of movie. The feelings that we're given to deal with are not tidy, and are sometimes just plain confusing -- but isn't that a huge part of human emotion, after all?
It was only after watching the movie that I found out it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It's pretty easy to see why. It would never be included in a race of Hollywood/New York/London movies, but it wholly embodies its Italian foreign-ness. The way that it embraced the Italian lifestyle, or a certain depiction of it, anyway, really stuck with me. It was not at all unusual for the old and young to be enjoying life and partying together. Generational separations meant far less than Italian togetherness. Everyone was out enjoying their lives rather than huddled around their televisions in their homes secured against their sca-a-ary fellow countrymen. That was certainly my experience 30 years ago when I was a student in France as well, and I appreciated the reminder.
La Grande Bellezza is what it says -- it's a painting, a sculpture, a chapel, a dance, a concerto, a work of heartfelt art. It is a Great Beauty.