As a result of my naivete and lack of knowledge/experience in film I have to admit that this is the first film by Paolo Sorrentino that I have seen and also one of the very few Italian films I’ve managed to cross off the list (others including Bicycle Thieves & 8 1/2). However, this screening has inspired me to embark on a mini ‘movie adventure’ and will endeavour to watch the films that must have had such a huge influence on Sorrentino. The films I had in mind were La Dolce Vita, La Strada etc.
The reason for the decision is purely through the brilliance of this movie, most notably it’s cinematography but it’s narrative and storyline which border on perfection. The film follows the protagonist Jep who is an aged writer in modern Rome who experiences death in his ex-girlfriend and first love from his youth and as a result pursues the ‘Great Beauty’ and scorning his party-hard lifestyle. I knew from the first minute of viewing that I would enjoy the film as intensely as I did, the opening few minutes provided a wonderful glimpse into what I would experience over the next few hours.
You may watch the TIFF trailer here:
The film was recommended to me by a friend and I have to admit that I knew little about Sorrentino or the film but was told it was essentially Malick meets Fellini and I’m not sure, from a purely technical perspective that I could summarize it better. The film had loose but recognizable cinematic similarities with Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ in that he absorbed that idyllic image of nature and bringing nature to the screen in a very similar way to Malick. The impact of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita must have been diligently subtle yet large due to the setting of Rome and genre of both movies. Although I wouldn’t call it influence or stealing (clearly) I did notice that Sorrentino adopted a character from Fellini’s 8 1/2 (see below), however, it is very plausible that it is a coincidence I felt it perhaps a subtle and silent homage to the king of Italian Cinema. Both characters played bit part roles in each film of probably equal screen time. Although there is no way of really knowing, as I said, I like to think that it is a silent tribute to Fellini’s masterpiece.
The Great Beauty I would argue, is what critics would call a modern classic. It had all the qualities in acting, in script, and in content of a Fellini film or other films labelled as ‘classics’. It also managed to finely weave these qualities so deftly with the modern intricacy of technology and cinematic excellence that the advancement of film-making has allowed directors and directors of photography to achieve. Furthermore, it was filled with sporadic bouts of beautiful monologues from the film’s protagonist himself, my favourite of which closed the entire movie:
“This is how it always ends. With death. But first there was life, hidden beneath the blah, blah, blah… It’s all settled beneath the chitter chatter and the noise, silence and sentiment, emotion and fear. The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty. And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity. All buried under the cover of the embarrassment of being in the world, blah, blah, blah… Beyond there is what lies beyond. And I don’t deal with what lies beyond. Therefore… let this novel begin. After all… it’s just a trick. Yes, it’s just a trick.”
As a piece of literature alone this is almost poetic and beautiful in itself, but combined with the exquisite cinematic abilities of Sorrentino and his team it made for a truly brilliant ending, and creating an irony in itself, that the film about ‘The Great Beauty’ became the product to modern cinema of its proclamations. As far as writing and literature goes, about 30 minutes into the movie I thought that it had reminded me significantly of a book I’d read called Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, not in story but in style and its image of romance and beauty. Low and behold, about two or three times after that, Jep (the protagonist) mentioned Flaubert and how he wanted to write a book about nothing! Perhaps this too was a coincidence but can only be of great tribute to the director that his work is so indicative of classical writers and film-makers alike.
In summation, I would continue to assert that this film is the very definition of a modern classic: meaty in length and content, filled with comedic triumphs, unwinding the mysteries of sex and tackles the subject of religion with an entertaining and not in the least dull mentality. Moreover, Jep just might be the coolest person to exist in both fiction and reality – so that’s an added bonus. I give this film a confident 8.5/10.
For further discussion tweet me @ianmperrin.