The Great Beauty

“To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.”

2014 has been the year of The Great Beauty. It is indeed in this year that the film, directed by Paolo Sorrentino and released in 2013, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. That, of course, has been a big source of pride for Italians. The film has been very well received abroad, whereas in Italy the general opinion is not so clear-cut, exhibiting a love-hate divide.

The director has been influenced by Fellini but has adapted the same background – Rome – to a different age. No more La Dolce Vita and the golden years of the Italian economy, but an age “of moral chaos and disorder, spiritual and emotional emptiness” (Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter). Stating that Rome is the background is not really fair, it is more the case that Rome is the co-protagonist of the movie, along with Jep Gambardella.

“The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 is that I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do.”

This is the sentence that describes the moment of Jep´s life depicted in the movie. A journalist who wrote one novel during his youth, Jep is at the centre of the mundane life of the Eternal City. He is surrounded by many characters who are all “on the brink of despair”. Jep finds out that his first love has died, and this sudden knowledge triggers a deep reflection on the meaning of his life.

There is so much of the idiosyncrasy of the Italian culture in this film, the art, the tension between the sacred and the profane, the conversations, the quest for Beauty. The characters, the music, the pictures combine features of both the religious and the mundane: from cardinals to prostitutes; from chirurgical surgeons to La Santa, a nun who has devoted her life to living in poverty; from spiritual  music such as The Beatitudes by Vladimir Martynov, to A far l’amore comincia tu by Raffaella Carrà and Bob Sinclar.

What is the Great Beauty after all? In the final scene, we see what it is. The Great Beauty is your first love looking at you, it is that innocence, those same genuine feelings which get lost in the whirlwind of life.

“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.“

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