Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar nominated The Great Beauty (2013) does its title justice. 142 minutes of cinema that leaves you with questions, but mostly vague answers, about the true meaning of beauty.
Jep Gamberdella’s (Servillo) nihilistic existence is accented by his self-destructive lifestyle: smoking, drinking and fucking beautiful women. He’s the essence of sophistication. At 65, he still dominates the lavish nightlife of Italy’s capital. Smoking, drinking, dancing and falling asleep when the world is waking up. A well-liked womanizer, even in his old age, and a celebrated writer, to boot. His talent is with words, written or spoken; it’s Jep’s wisdom that turns him into a lightning rod for his troubled, artist-type friends seeking advice. But, it’s the death of a loved, forgotten friend that triggers Jep’s internal dialogue that cause an intense reexamination.
The Great Beauty, like the title suggests, is an ode to exquisite, elegant beauty: Rome, women, sculptures, paintings…etc. But, as pleasing to the eye as those things may be, the focus is Jep’s interpretation of the concept itself that dominates the movie. Simply put, the film chronicles Jep’s search for true happiness, the appreciation of beauty.
Sorrentino successfully paints a primitive picture of nighttime debauchery. Flailing limbs, eyes glazed with drink, cackles and screams that would suggest insanity in any location outside a party. These are traits found in most attendees of these lavish parties. A reminder that humans are no different than a group of jungle monkeys. Armani-clad chimps trying to climb to the top of the social tree. A vague idea of what I imagine to happen behind closed doors at upscale joints in Yaletown, or at The Vancouver Club. Mr. Gambardella, however, finds himself in a tough situation. Because, as much as Jep wants to separate himself from the pack, he is their king. He sees the pitfalls of this chaotic lifestyle, but is too attracted to turn it down.
It’s this deeply embedded lifestyle, and Jep’s ability to snap out of it, that makes this movie so enthralling. To knowingly fall into a routine, either it be non-stop partying or the opposite, and cease to gain new knowledge or perspectives is a flaw found in most people. The mind is Man’s greatest asset, but when neglected serves no purpose whatsoever.
Along with the stirring conversation Jep has with himself throughout the film, viewers are treated to a piece of cinematic gold. A tall glass of expensive Chianti in film form, if you will. The cinematography, along with the scenery, is as beautiful as it is unorthodox: shots of the Mediterranean, Rome, beautiful women left, right, and, you guessed it, center. The score was a combination of classical opera Jep’s introspective moments and Italian club disco beats for the party scenes.
However, it was the feeling of completeness that all these aspects provided that really made this movie stand out. Balance. A perfect interweb of dialogue, thoughts, and silences that seemed to tie together so perfectly that words can’t describe the feeling felt after The Great Beauty’s ending credits started to roll along the Tiber. This is a film for the existentialist. For those who constantly question their surroundings. Not always finding a concrete answer, but come painstakingly close. On the tip of your brain’s tongue.
The bottom line is to go watch The Great Beauty. You might come closer to that answer; your soul will thank you for it.
The Great Beauty opens on 31 January.