I knew little of The Great Beauty – La Grande Bellezza – before deciding to view it. "Sexy, provocative, haunting and extravagant" are a sample of the many descriptors employed by reviewers. Speaking of reviews, this is not to be deemed one; on the contrary, consider it a short attempt to interpret the effect of some of its constituent parts as experienced by and, through the eyes of its principal character, Jep Gambardella on the viewer, yours truly - Sapientia et Doctrina.
Excuse me for not bothering about the plot, I suggest you either watch the film or, read one of the many reviews. My first encounter with this film was via the trailer, taking pleasure in that opening party scene as I thought, ah the Italians, good at having escapist fun, forgetting there every day tomorrow.
Without wishing to sound hackneyed, I feel obliged to state that The Great Beauty's vibe and ambiance harks to La Dolce Vita. I did not write this because everyone in the industry has already stated it. It is because I have long owned a copy of Federico Fellini’s classic, not that I enjoyed his construct as much, though I will pull it off the shelf again soon.
In short, I found The Great Beauty uplifting but, in a disconcerting way, being consciously aware of an ever present melancholy undercurrent within Jep that could be felt, not merely understood; a credit to director, Sorrentino. In my personal case, I could not only understand it, I could feel it and do, most nearly all days of late.
The people mix surrounding Jep at events, outdoor theatres and parties intrigued me. There were few perfectly formed Hollywood like twenty something’s to be seen instead, we are offered a surprising mix of older types, Jep at 65 and those immediately around him middle aged and older. A smart mix since the supposedly seasoned can also be silly, asinine, immature, senseless and crazy at times, undeniably they can be raw, barbaric and loutish as well just like their younger counterparts. Jep’s crown, high society cultured and yet, so philistine.
In a mischievous manner, is it perverse of me to find myself drawn to the dysfunctional world of Jep Gambardella? Far removed from my own existence and that of many my age, nevertheless, I often crave an alternate reality as a much-needed diversion, even if only for a few short months as a counter to the daily humdrum. We do want to reach end days and be able to say, I have lived correct? I could do with a dose of meaningless living and outright unabashed hedonism, I can be dead while alive, I can be Jep, I can be "Jeppino", a dark secret perhaps, the tag line if you like.
Jep turns 65 early in the film and through a series of seemingly innocuous events, he begins reflecting on his life and he does not appear comfortable, has he awoken, faced the truth, opened his eyes? I opened mine long ago but have eye opened them wide enough?. To think about and reflect on one’s own, to step out of self, to think about ones thinking, to look at, as opposed to merely looking can revealing and enlightening. It is like having two selves co-existing, one real the other imagined looking at the whole, trying to make sense where sometimes sadly, there may be no sense to be found. "Imagined" but nonetheless important, for when we begin doing this we are living, we understand and accept truth and begin feeling the hurt then, with any luck, we smile regardless, for we accept that this is life, our lives. I am not suggesting that I am happy nor that I am unhappy, I am merely unenthusiastically almost aversely, accepting reality. In Jep's words,
"It all settled beneath the chattering and the noise, silence and sentiment, emotion and fear ... and then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity"Jep also appears to be experiencing that thought and the accompanying feeling, vita non realizzata, - life unfulfilled - not a pleasant thought.
I wonder why the film opened with that quote, the one that suggests that anything other than travel (because when we do this we do not settle down) is just a delusion and pain. Was it Jep’s view and modus operandi for the forty years that he partied in Rome?
Two things stood out for me, The Great Beauty can have the effect of making it's viewers think about their lives, for some critically for others perhaps casually and, it's a good showcase of excess cheeky though realistic adult kitsch…
Click here and here to read some notable reviews
Related reading: Federico Fellini - 5 reasons He Still Matters