The Great Beauty is the story of Jep (Toni Servillo); an aging writer living in Rome, in a high society whirlwind of hedonism, alcohol and drugs. After celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday, Jep decides to search for a lost sense of meaning in his life. Throw in a desperate stripper teetering on the edge of a breakdown, a visit from Jep’s ex-lover’s husband, and cutaway’s that will have you confused even days after watching this film (as I still am) and you’ve got quite the brew.
I love films about writers. The personal drama shown by these films tends to either slow the picture right down to a halt, or speed it up to the point of being crazy. The Great Beauty manages to do both these things – with lengthy party scenes driven by perfectly chosen music that give the film a sense of chaotic action. Then comes the morning after (as it were) which shows Jep walking dishevelled down a quiet street. He stops to wash his face at a public fountain, and is observed by children in a church orphanage. Time seems to stand still as they are moved along by their carer, but one remains to look at Jep, who smiles at her. Beautiful – and nothing contributes to this ‘great beauty’ more so than the cinematographic work of Luca Bigazzi, for which he rightly earned an accolade at the Nastri d’Argento (a selection of awards given by an association of Italian critics). Every frame is left to resonate in your mind like a work of art. Other awards this gem managed to bag include best sound, best supporting actor (for Carlo Verdone, who plays Romano, Jep’s friend) and best supporting actress (for Sabrina Ferilli, who starred as Ramona, a desperate stripper who becomes something of a muse for Jep). Luca Bigazzi also managed to get himself another best cinematography award from the Italian golden globe. As well as these, the film was nominated for 9 other awards, including best actor for Toni Servillo, and the Palme d’or award for Paolo Sorrentino; the latter being a very prestigious award given to the director of the best feature film shown at the Cannes film festival – in the end, this award was given to Abdellatif Kechiche, for the film Blue is the Warmest Colour, in case you were wondering. The setting of this film also contributes a lot to the stunning visuals; Sorrentino and Bigazzi really have done an amazing job of capturing Rome’s beauty. This also serves to highlight the lack of real ‘beauty’ in Jep’s life, symbolised by his state of mind and the events of the film.
This film might be a little confusing, and I’ll admit: downright weird in some places, and the cutaway’s might make your head hurt at some points – but as a visual spectacle this film is nothing short of amazing. Even if this aspect doesn’t appeal to you, the story itself is a touching drama about a man past his prime trying to grow up in a city and social group that seems to be dragging him down into darkness. It’s all a bit self-involved, like a lot of films about writer’s are – but I have to admit, I really like it.