The Great Beauty
Posted by martinteller on July 24, 2014
In the past year, I’ve made it to the theater a lot more often than in previous years, but still there are times when I blow my chances to see something I really wanted to check out on the big screen. I found the trailer for The Great Beauty very intriguing, heard some encouraging praise for it, and generally quite enjoyed the only other Paolo Sorrentino film I’d seen, The Consequences of Love. But theater seats usually get uncomfortable for me after about an hour, much less 140 minutes, so I passed up the opportunity. As usual, I regret it. I’m lucky enough (or indulgent enough) to have a pretty sizable television in my living room so the visuals were still dazzling, but I can only imagine how breathtaking they’d be on the big screen of a movie house. The imagery in this film is simply stunning, from one frame to the next. The camera swoops around, trying to take in the elaborate parties and impressive architecture… but sometimes it also lingers lovingly, as when Jep (Toni Servillo) is confronted with a majestic giraffe in an open arena.
The aesthetic splendor continues with the music. The collection of gorgeous classical music and high-energy pop (including an inventive cover of Eurythmics’ “There Must Be An Angel”) and a magnificent rendition of Robert Burns’s “My Heart’s in the Highlands” complements the images perfectly, lyrically. I rarely acquire movie soundtracks, but this one is going in my collection.
And so is the movie itself, when I get around to buying it (perhaps during the next Barnes & Noble Criterion sale). I found it fascinating and beautiful. Besides the beauty contained in its sounds and visions, there is a fantastic performance by Servillo as a man searching for meaning in his empty life, but too inert and comfortable to actually give it up. If you’ve heard anything about this film, you’ve probably heard Fellini’s name invoked. It’s unavoidable. It has the soul-searching of 8 1/2 but more than that it can be seen as an updated version of La dolce vita. That’s not one of my favorites by Fellini, and I think Sorrentino approaches similar subject matter — an episodic journey through debauched, pretentious, narcissistic Roman high society — with not only a more thrilling sense of aesthetics, but also a more heartfelt sensitivity. Fellini’s film saw only the emptiness. Sorrentino sees the beauty that surrounds these people, who often ignore it with a jaded boredom, focusing instead on gossip, fame, and mindless time-killing activities. “What’s wrong with being nostalgic?” asks Jep’s friend Romano (Carlo Verdone) but we see that beauty isn’t only a thing of the past… it’s all around us, if we can get our heads out of the coke-fueled conga lines long enough to appreciate it.
With a wonderful script that’s often wickedly funny, this may be a new favorite of mine. Perhaps I was too awed by the music and visuals this time to approach it from a more critical viewpoint, but I look forward to seeing it again to see if holds up. Rating: Great (93)