Friday, February 7, 2014

The Great Beauty (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Great Beauty”
Is Art Imitating Life

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“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.” This quote from Céline’s “Journey to the End of Night” introduces “The Great Beauty” (Italian title “La grande bellezza”), likely to be the winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

A story of alienation and excess in today’s Rome, “The Great Beauty” is now showing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, we meet Jep Gambardella, an aging socialite who has coasted through life on the strength of a novel he wrote in his twenties. Now celebrating his 65th birthday party in his lavish apartment overlooking Rome’s Coliseum, he comes to reflect back on his comfortable but meaningless life. Going for a stroll through the city streets, he recalls his first love, his sense of loneliness, and a vapid life.

The film’s contrast between the beauty of the city and the lack of beauty of the people we encounter is deliberate.

Toni Servillo (“Viva la libertà,” “Il Divo”) inhabits the character of Jep. He was selected as best actor at the 26th European Film Awards for this role.

Think of “The Great Beauty” as a modern-day version of “La Dolce Vita.”

“It was not my intention to imitate Fellini, but I know that the idea of this movie worked in the same context as some of his, but 50 years later,” nods director Paolo Sorrentino.

He describes “La Dolce Vita” as a film that tries to understand the meaning of life in a world that is losing this meaning. “That is a sensation I can feel right now in Rome, the sense that life is futile, that you can’t find a real sense of purpose. This is the feeling of my movie.”

Sorrentino observes that society has gotten worse since Fellini made his landmark masterpiece. “I think the vulgarity is more accentuated, as is the loss of the sense of ‘pudore,’ of shame or modesty or reserve.”

In fact, Sorrentino considers his film as a case of art imitating life.

“The Great Beauty” has been selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

It’s been 15 years since an Italian movie (Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful”) won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. “I think it would be hypocritical of me to say I don’t care about winning, because if you are there, you want to win,” says Paolo Sorrentino. “As a European, I feel great admiration for the huge capacity that Americans have to create a show around this awards season. So I would be very happy to be there as a protagonist, if only for once.”

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