Campus Cinema’s International Film Week inspired me to review Italian film ‘La Grande Bellezza’ (‘The Great Beauty’). Hugely celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival and winner of 2014 Golden Globes Best Foreign Film, ‘La Grande Bellezza’ is bizarre and beautiful in equal measure. The film focalises around Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), an acclaimed journalist, living off the glory of his one, brilliant novel, written 40 years previously. The film opens with vulgarity and decadence; Jep’s 65th birthday, a rare and unforgettable opening, whose energy absurdly grabs your attention. Jep, on the brink of despair and old age, is looking for the ‘grande bellezza’ of life. In dismay of the diminishing sophistication of the world, we follow him through Rome, his literary circle of friends and unsentimental flashbacks. Yet, in Italian playboy fashion, he never quite seems to escape from the seedy underworld. However, it isn’t exactly the narrative plot that intrigues. Both Toni Servillo and Roberto Herlitzka, Jep’s Cardinal acquaintance contending to be Pope, deliver impressive performances. While the film is engulfed by a very modern, powerful female presence. Yet, the film’s true success is through Sorrentino’s stunning cinematography, unlike anything I’ve seen before. He beautifully juxtaposes successive shots, mingling the sacred and the profane throughout. His bizarre cinematography disorientates the audience, similarly to his uncanny camera angles and dislocating screenplay, which is only tolerable because it’s so self-consciously frivolous in its pretention. Perhaps this is the great beauty of the film. I found myself enveloped rather than questioning the absurdities of ‘La Grande Bellezza’. I got lost in the grotesque vulgarities and the beauty of Rome to remember the point of the collapsing Asian tourist and the naked woman who headbutted a wall for art’s sake, while spontaneous appearances on balconies and shrouded nuns run throughout. ‘La Grande Bellezza’ appeals entirely to the lust for Roman decadence and beauty. Jep may be convinced of the damning decay of Italy, but elegant, striking shots from his apartment overlooking the amphitheatre tell us otherwise.
by Isabelle Pitman, Razz Film and Literature Correspondent