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La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) by Paolo Sorrentino

October 30, 2013


The sixth feature by Paolo Sorrentino confirms that the Italian director has a keen eye for the ramifications of his stories while – willingly? – the construction of the main plot is always quite shaky, though it would be maybe unfair to say that La Grande Bellezza is a series of sketches centered around the figure of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) – failed writer and successful socialite – since the cinematic structure offers plenty of thematic elements (water is the prominent one with the first scene at Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on the Janiculum hill in Rome and the closing scene on the sea) nonetheless while the satire of modern times obsessions – perennial beauty and youth via medical treatment – or the phony nature of performance art (the attack on the aqueduct) produces a visually rich cinematic experience, the overall story of Jep and his friends is not at the same level nor as a narrative nor as a film.


Consciously or not La Grande Bellezza is La Dolce Vita 2.0 and a hopeless tone poem for the capital of Italy: Servillo’s Jep Gambardella echoes Mastroianni’s Marcello Rubini – they both are failed writers turned journalists – but while Marcello was still young and he and his town maybe still had a redeeming chance, La Grande Bellezza opens on Jep’s 65th birthday party, the characters are almost as old as their town and Jep – almost an embodiment of the Celine quote from Journey to the End of Night in the opening titles – is a nihilist and a misanthropist; I ignore if Sorrentino shares the point of view of his main character but the Italian world as we see it in The Great Beauty – with Proust going into the same sentence with Ammaniti and where a fat and ugly former starlet is played by a real fat and ugly former starlet (Serena Grandi of Tinto Brass fame) – is a hard one to love.

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