The Great Beauty‘s “tumultuous visual banquet” may fascinate foreigners, it is understandable, and in fact it does, since to many commentators (from the English speaking countries, more than from Germany, unsurprisingly) this movie “is a blast”.
Therefore I will contradict my previous post and quote the Guardian’s review by Peter Bradshaw, since its depth is unusual, is in line with the themes of this blog (and at times it is like Bradshaw watched another movie, but in any case.)
“The grande bellezza like the grande tristezza - Bradshaw observes – can mean love, or sex, or art, or death, but above all it means Rome, and the city is evoked with staggering flair and attack. Sorrentino’s signature swooping and zooming camera discloses scenes and figures and faces. We see a sunny, glorious morning in the city: a Japanese tourist has collapsed, through fatigue, or perhaps some aesthetic overload, a Roman death-epiphany. The director then contrives a thrilling hard cut from this subdued scene to a deafening Eurotrash party thrown for Jep Gambardella’s 65th birthday, pulsing to Sorrentino’s favourite glassy electro-pop: a writhing Bosch mass of revellers.
One of Jep’s acquaintances is Cardinal Bellucci, tipped to be the next pontiff, hilariously played by 75-year-old Roberto Herlitzka. The cardinal fascinates Jep, and is possessed of an intimate knowledge of Rome’s occult secrets, sacred and profane. His character weirdly reminded me of an episode in the life of Pope John Paul II, who as a young Polish priest was encouraged by Krakow’s Cardinal Adam Sapieha to study in Rome, specifically to develop his sense of Romanità, the almost untranslatable sense of Roman-ness. It is not precisely theology, or history or politics, but something encoded in the squares and gardens of Rome that is vital for a potential Pope, or for anyone who wishes to understand the vanity and seductive glory of human wishes.
La Grande Bellezza is steeped in this mysterious Romanità: Jep broods on Mondanità, or fashionable high-life. And that is a remarkably resilient culture, liable to go on without Jep, thanks to the muscular vigour shown by its bronzed and botoxed elders. In 1960, Pauline Kael called this film genre the “come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe party”: La Grande Bellezza looks like a “come-dressed-as-the-fantastically-vigorous-and-unrepentant-soul-of-rich-Europe” party. When they dance to a catchy remix of We No Speak Americano, there is no cultural cringe to the US. They are Italians, Romans: they don’t need Americans or anyone else.”
See part 1: