The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty, winner of the Academy Award for the Best Foreign film of the year, is a treat, a film of visual riches, the riches of Rome, wild parties, melancholy reflections. None of it is true in the literal sense. It is a trick of the imagination, homage to another trickster, Fellini. But like all tricks, its deceptions have an element of truth in them.

The film is the story of a 65 year-old Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo), who wrote a popular book some time ago and has never written another. He has a gorgeous apartment overlooking the Coliseum with a terrace where he gives his parties for the beautiful people of Rome that last all night and well beyond the morning sunrise.

There is exuberant dancing, absurd conversation, drinking, an overload of sensual riches that never stop. Jep wanders around the streets of Rome, watching, reminiscing, meets a friend, lingers in art galleries, and goes to another all night party, where there is more drinking, beautiful women, hypocrisy and boogie-woogie.

A reviewer writes: “Never have cynicism and disillusion seemed more intoxicating that in The Great Beauty.” That captures the spirit of this film perfectly.

Then a friend comes to visit Jep, informs him his wife died, that she only truly loved Jep, after an early romance between them. It is all written in her diary, unlocked after her death. The film takes a turn toward the solemn. Jep asks to read the diary. Her husband isn’t offended but says that it’s not possible, as the diary was thrown away.

I wrote to a friend who lives in Rome that I was going to see the film. From what I had read, I thought it would be a love letter to Rome. She replied:

Well, the Great Beauty does not at all represents Rome, I mean the reality described by the film is absolutely present, it is the image of a social class deeply present in Italy and it is the one which ruined our country because links politics and its power with private interests. However, Rome is magic, I travel a lot ... but Rome has something special, something that keeps you company also when you are alone. Everywhere you see there is art, the past and its traditions wraps you.

I left the theater in a daze, but unimpressed, not knowing what to say about it or what is worth thinking about. Jep had spent his life searching for the great beauty and never found it.