PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

'The Great Beauty' Is a Magnificent, Sensory-Rich Visual Poem that Pulsates with Life

Rome has mastered a balletic balance in chaotic dichotomy, where ruin and exultation beg for a kind of seduction that only film can provide.


The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Distributor: Criterion
Release date: 2014-03-25

Rome, it seems, can exist only one way: as a myth. It is timeless not because of its age and history but because it lives beyond us. It is content to entertain any of our pedestrian projections, nostalgic desires or ancient appreciations. Yet, it never feels compelled to comfort us with easy understanding. The city has mastered a balletic balance in chaotic dichotomy, where ruin and exultation beg for seduction.

Rome’s greatest seducer of all time may be cinema. This ancient city seems designed exclusively for life on the big screen. In the '60s Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8 ½) revolutionized Italian cinema by blending fantasy and highly stylized imagery with sharp, observant tales of modern life.

Director Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love, Il Divo) proudly invokes and simultaneously reinvigorates Fellini’s style in his Oscar-winning film, The Great Beauty (2013).

In Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is the epitome of charm and sophistication. He is both a permanent fixture and sardonic commentator of Rome’s literary and cultural elite. As a young man he met with success after writing his one and only novel, The Human Apparatus. He has spent the subsequent decades working as a journalist and enjoying all the indulgences Rome’s nightlife can provide.

The film begins with an incredible rooftop party in celebration of Jep’s 65th birthday. Everyone should see this film if for no other reason than the sublime joy of Toni Servillo’s entrance at this party. Servillo has a face that is neither classical nor modern, yet it's utterly compelling. In the folds of his face he absorbs Rome in all its magnificent delight and compelling decay.

Soon after his birthday festivities, Jep learns about the death of an old girlfriend (quite possibly the only woman he ever loved). The news thrusts Jep into introspection and we follow him on a peripatetic tour that winds it way across Rome and down through specific moments in his past. Jep is an exquisite flâneur, and his strolls are an occasion not only for personal contemplation but an opportunity to encounter the strange, glorious and banal digressions of everyday life.

Plot is secondary to emotional and sensory experience in The Great Beauty. On the surface this movie is nothing more than one man’s recollections about his life, his loves and his city. Yet, The Great Beauty achieves something remarkable and is a thrilling reminder of what cinema can achieve through mere glimpses.

The Great Beautyis a magnificent, sensory-rich visual poem that pulsates with life. It does not want nor need to be a grand film with a sweeping narrative. As Jep says in one of his many monologues, “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.”

Critics seem unable to comment on The Great Beauty without mentioning Fellini. There's no question that Sorrentino draws heavily from Fellini’s oeuvre. However, Sorrentino is no copycat, and this film highlights his exquisite eye for architecture (much like the great Michelangelo Antonioni). You feel this film, move in and around such spaces. Sorrentino’s camera not only establishes place, but also opens up a living atmosphere where the audience can be a companion in Jep’s world.

The Great Beauty is as much an existential meditation as it is a wonder of visual storytelling. Many movies are advertised as an experience, which usually means nothing more than a visual and auditory bombardment designed for distraction and instant amnesia. Few films actually achieve a state of resonance through a purposeful evasion of understanding.

If you missed The Great Beauty during its limited North American theatrical run last year, you now have the chance to view it at home thanks to the Criterion Collection. The digital transfer of the film to DVD, is stellar and the images are as deep and luxuriant on the small screen as they were in cinemas.

All the usual Criterion Collection extras are here on this three-disc set, which include deleted scenes, interviews with the film’s director (Paolo Sorrentino), screenwriter (Umberto Contarello) and lead actor (Toni Servillo). The box set also includes a considered essay about the film by noted critic Phillip Lopate.

Over the last several years the Criterion Collection has significantly shortened its waiting period for certain films to qualify for its stamp of approval. Some will argue that this strategy has reduced the brand’s associated prestige. Yet, in the case of The Great Beauty the expedited decision is completely warranted. This is a film that instantly justifies its critical praise and backs up its titular claim of being great.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.