Review of the Oscar-winning Italian film ‘The Great Beauty’ (aka ‘La Grande Bellezza’)
An easy and extremely cheap way to travel vicariously is to let your television screen travel for you and immerse you in a foreign country, simply by watching a film. I recently watched a short video produced by the Society of Italian Studies which shows Third Year Abroad Students living in Naples, Florence, Lake Como and instantly felt a pang of wanderlust for Italy, a country I’ve lived in myself and which I adore to bits. To cure this wanderlust I sat myself down to watch the 2014 Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty. Being an Italian language film, I don’t expect it was shown in many UK cinemas last year, but in my opinion it’s worth a serious amount of attention.
Set in modern-day Rome, The Great Beauty (or La Grande Bellezza in Italian) follows the day-to-day of a famous journalist called Jep Gambardella whose life is a whirlwind of high-society parties and lavish parties. When he discovers that his first love has died but that she had spent her entire life still loving him, he starts to re-assess his bourgeois lifestyle and search for meaning within it. A number of bizarre characters feature in Jep’s quest to find real beauty in his surroundings, and I found each one of the storyline tangents extremely thought-provoking. Many of these characters are artists in one form or another and I really appreciated the importance that the film gives to the creative industries. Too often nowadays I feel that art is underappreciated, seen as a superfluous luxury in our money-obsessed society.
I can’t ignore the incredible cinematography of The Great Beauty. It is a visually stunning film, both in technique and in scenery. Thankfully they haven’t employed the classic but predictable sights of Rome used in typical blockbusters, with the Colliseum as the only exception, and instead the director Paolo Sorrentino takes the viewer inside the many great palazzi of Rome, which visitors can normally only admire from the outside. Having previously been such a thriving and wealthy city during the Renaissance, the interiors of Rome’s Baroque mansions are adorned with infinite marble statues, floor-to-ceiling frescoes, grand sweeping staircases and opulent halls. This film offers a peek into these homes and into the lives of the upper class Romans who inhabit them. Interestingly, the name of the Italian family I au paired for just outside of Rome (read about that here) is mentioned several times in the film. I’ll confess that I loved the scenery used in the film (what fun it would have been to be the film’s location scout…) and this is an important part of the film’s attraction for me.
Having spent a lot of time in Italy and as I speak Italian, of course I connected with the film more than I might have done otherwise. But I still think it would appeal to anyone. As long as you are remotely interested in foreign culture, the arts, beautiful locations, or simply the pursuit of meaning, then you will enjoy this film. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s the trailer to give you a taster: