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The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

By Bellezza @bellezzamjs
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

"Sumptuously sensual, crammed with gusto, vitality, spectacle, and invention, The Great Beauty (2013) is also a cautionary tale about the heedless pursuit of pleasure. Director Paolo Sorrentino pulls out all the stops visually, layering one stunning, eye-opening image onto another. But for all this, the film is also, paradoxically, austere and rigorous." ~Phillip Lopate, Columbia University

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Here is Jep Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo, the writer who is at the center of the film. He narrates bits of his life, his surroundings, the details of Rome and its privileged crowd's existence, beginning with his sixty-fifth birthday celebration.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

But scenes change quickly from one to another, much as the mood of the film swings from somber to exuberant. Unexpectedly, we are thrust into an outdoor theater where a naked woman runs full force into a brick wall which makes the audience gasp; but, not turn away. This, for them, is entertainment.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

As Jeb contemplates his life he is less likely to be moved sexually as he is in his search for answers. Why did Elisa leave him in 1970? He never finds out, any more than he finds an answer to spiritual questions from a cardinal who leaves Jeb standing there while he goes off hunting for skunk.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Although the film had many strange scenes, such as this child creating a work of art before a crowd of spectators, while crying because she is forced to do so, it was at the same time compelling. The shots of Rome were spectacular, the depiction of the people remarkable in the way that their very existence was so frivolous. From Botox parties, to all night drinking...

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

to a conga line which never ends, I was struck as I always am by the ridiculousness of the masses.

My favorite scenes, my favorite lines, came from the character Sister Maria. A representation of Sister Theresa, at 104 years of age, she is asked why she won't let them interview her in a book.

"I took a vow of poverty. And you don't talk about poverty. You live it," she says very quietly through broken and greying teeth.

And later, when Jeb is standing on a balcony watching migrating flamingos who are resting there, she turns to ask him, "Do you know why I only eat roots?"

"No," he replies.

"Because roots are important."

But it seems to me that Jeb has shallow roots, or none at all. He is lost and conflicted through much of the film, until finally he accepts what he cannot change and says, "What lies beyond is not my concern. Therefore, let the novel begin."

A final point: the music from the film was as good as the cinematography for me. Just as the film's scenes moved from the sacred to the profane, the music went from a disco beat to an angelic choir.

Music from the film:

My Heart's in the Highlands (Arvo Pärt) - Else Torp and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent
Time, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
The Beatitudes (Vladimir Martynov) - The Kronos Quartet
Dies irae from Requiem for My Friend (Zbigniew Preisner)
The Lamb (John Tavener) - The Temple Church Choir
Symphony in C Major: II. Adagio (Georges Bizet) - The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
River Flows, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Symphony no. 3: III. Lento (Henryk Górecki) - The London Symphony Orchestra w/ Dawn Upshaw
Beata viscera (Magister Perotinus) - Vox Clamantis
Far l'amore (Club Mix) - Bob Sinclar and Raffaella Carrà
More Than Scarlet - Decoder Ring
Take My Breath Away - Gui Boratto
Brain Waves, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Everything Trying - Damien Jurado
Parade - Tape
Color My World, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Forever - Antonello Venditti
Surge of Excitement, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Water from the Same Source - Rachel's
Settembre non comincia, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Ti ruberò - Monica Cetti
Trumeau, from the score by Lele Marchitelli
Que no se acabe el mambo - La Banda Gorda
We No Speak Americano - Studio Allstars
Discoteca - Exchpoptrue
Mueve la colita (2012 Remix) - El Gato DJ
Ramona, from the score by Lele Marchitelli

La Grande Bellezza won Best Foreign Language Film of the Year from the Academy Awards in 2014, and Best Foreign Language Film from the Golden Globes in 2014, among many other nominations and awards from countries worldwide. I thank Scott of seraillon for bringing it to my attention.

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