Today’s topic: the beauty of The Great Beauty. Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film of 2013, Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty keeps being praised as the new work of art comparable to Federico Fellini’s vision. The city, the characters, the slow meandering, it all adds up. However to me, Sorrentino has his own voice. Sure, without Fellini’s La Dolce Vita or Otto e Mezzo there wouldn’t be such a visible inspiration in Sorrentino’s film. Still, I stand my opinion that The Great Beauty is an animal of its own, rare kind. It’s more than just a self study of aging and finding the lost reason for living. It’s more than just a depiction of Rome as the center of all the parties, all the lust and richness of the world. It’s the search for hidden beauty and forgotten values. It’s a rediscovery of our civilization.
Jep Gambardella is getting old. His chain smoking is not helping. His life of parties and quick romantic nights is getting repetitive. Jep is 65. He’s published one single book, forty years earlier. It was hailed as a masterpiece. For Jep it was more than a work of literature. He didn’t really know what he was writing about, even if the rest of the world did. He couldn’t find the right amount of inspiration after that, and as he puts it; there’ve been too many parties in his life. He wasn’t a simple participant, he was the creator of parties: “I wanted to have the power to make the parties fail”. He’s been king of the nightlife forever. And yet, as he turns 65, he remembers the subtle feeling of sensibility he once had, and like that… it hits him again. The empty feeling in your soul, telling you to wake up. Jep finally has his eyes wide open, in search of something. Sorrentino tells this story by establishing Rome as the capital of the universe. It’s a city that’s always alive, it’s a city that represents our identities. It’s got culture, history, religion, crime, drug use, prostitution. It’s the world itself packed into one single location. Jep roams around this forest, still after all these years, unknown to him. For all these years he pretended to be someone he’s not. The reason was Jep’s broken heart.
Jep discovers a whole new world by day. He sees people jogging, old timers drinking morning coffee, children running to school, and in one particular scene he contemplates a group of nuns. Religion’s been missing from Jep’s a long time now. He has forgotten the clean feeling you have in your heart after your long awaited confession. In fact, The Great Beauty is partly about spirituality, and how sometimes we should be confident and believe that we’re not alone, because sometimes life rocks us to the bone. Sometimes life can be cruel. Sometimes we, on our very own, are not strong enough. Like Jep’s friend’s son; a troubled young man who struggles living in an empty home, without a father, without a present mother. Served by maids and babysitters. He finds the final answer to all his sufferings in a quick death. But The Great Beauty is not about that. A lot of critics and viewers have been saying how Sorrentino’s film focuses on the presence of death in our lives. Personally, I think the opposite. It’s a celebration of life, and what is life? It’s the ship that carries us on the open sea and sometimes stumbles because of the storm. But life can be peaceful, full of pleasures and joy. Its sweet taste can only be fully savoured once we sink our teeth into it.
“Why haven’t you written another book?” asks an old nun. Jep replies: “I was busy looking for the great beauty. I never found it.” But it’s never too late. And that’s what drives Sorrentino’s work to be what it is. It’s a film about hope. Life seems short to Jep because of all the nights he can’t remember, the women he stopped counting, the useless interviews he’s been writing to keep his name alive. It comes to a point when Jep decides he has to stop doing things he doesn’t want to do. He contemplates true friendship with a middle aged stripper, Ramona. She doesn’t know where the wind will blow either. Together, they attend a funeral, where Jep cries. It’s the tears that have gathered over the years and can finally be released at a rightful moment. It’s the inner pain that has been cutting deeper and deeper into Jep’s heart. “It felt good not to make love” says Jep after a sleep-over with Ramona. That’s part of self-discovery. You find out that there’s more to yourself than just what you’ve been hearing from others the whole time. It feels right to let it all out and at the same time let it all in. And Rome, beautiful as it is, it’s a place that keeps inviting tourists and releasing the locals. Jep’s best friend leaves, showing Jep a world of emptiness. At parties he hears nothing other than gossip and self-conscious conversations. Ego, ego, ego. Rome is filled with people, young and old, wanting to become writers, actors, stars really. Glamour and fame. It’s superficial. Jep knows it. In fact, in the hidden corners of the capital Jep studies what’s being ignored most of the time; children laughing, a fisherman smiling, a bartender chatting with his customers, birds migrating, lovers kissing passionately. Step by step it becomes clearer and clearer: it’s the unnoticed part of life that is the definite proof that real beauty exists. Beauty that is always there, in loss and destruction, a kind of beauty, which Jep finally finds and embraces.
True beauty is simple. True beauty is not flashy. It’s not on the main cover of Vogue. It’s not a beauty contest or a modern art exhibition. It’s a simple breath that fills out your lungs. It gets you higher than the sky.
Look for it, and you’ll meet Jep.