I have absolutely no standing whatsoever to review a movie and my main reason for doing so is to encourage people to not miss this one. This is the season of film awards and suddenly, after eleven months of desert, the theaters are deluged with an excess of quality movies demanding your attention. The Great Beauty is the Italian entry to the Oscars’ category of Best Foreign Language Film and it just won the comparable category at the Golden Globes.
After seeing Black 47 on New Years Eve and drinking a rather lot I expected that I would be spending a large part of New Years Day lolling in bed. Much to my surprise I woke up earlier than I expected. I tried to do some sketching, but it was just a tad too cold to be still out of doors. Eventually, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in New York to see a movie that might not make it to Baltimore and I walked down to the Angelica on Houston Street figuring that I would just get a ticket for whatever was playing next. I bought a ticket for the next showing of The Great Beauty, not knowing anything about it other than the fact that it was in Italian and the bare bones description pasted in the window of the box office. I was entirely unprepared for the sensual, hypnotic beauty that would unfold before my eyes over the course of the next two hours.
From the Janus Films website:
Journalist Jep Gambardella (the dazzling Toni Servillo, Il divo and Gomorrah) has charmed and seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. Since the legendary success of his one and only novel, he has been a permanent fixture in the city’s literary and social circles, but when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
I’m almost hesitant to link to the website of the film because the trailer does not begin to do the film justice, nor does the synopsis. The website makes it look like a pretentious travelogue tacked onto a cliché. The idea of someone living the high life “taking stock of his life” might lead you to fear that he may come to see that his life is empty and hollow and reject it in favor of something more profound. Do not worry. This movie goes nowhere anything so predictable and tedious as that.
Jep is a sybarite, a sensualist, an aesthete – words to which I can relate – and he remains all those things at the end. It is revealed to us, the audience, through his eyes, how the beauty of the world is intimately linked to decay and death. This is conveyed through a heightened reality, at moments bordering on magic realism, that I’m tempted to liken to Mannerism, though perhaps it is the location of the film that puts that in my mind. At moments, I was unsure of what was going on, but it was visually stunning. It was one of those movies where the entire audience sat until the end of the credits and, even after they were over, only began to get out of their seats slowly and quietly, as if they were waking from a dream. I couldn’t help but notice that not a few people wore a faint, beatific smile.
It opened more widely yesterday.