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The Great Beauty. A Window Into Rome’s Occult Secrets? (2)

la grande bellezza
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.)

Sabrina Ferilli

Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona, a 41 year old exotic dancer, in The Great Beauty by Sorrentino

“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.

Night Club

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:

The Great Beauty – La Grande Bellezza – Is Not A Great Movie (1)

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog,, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

7 responses »

  1. If nothing else you have made me want to see the movie!

  2. ”……. to many commentators (from the English speaking countries……….) this movie ‘is a blast”……..’

    This is no doubt why I, who am from an English-speaking country, found the Guardian’s and, yes, even Der Spiegel’s review of “The Great Beauty” to be so enticing, I’m putting it at the top of my “films to see” list.

    From what Der Spiegel said, that “……die Musik ist nett und geschmackvoll – so dass die Geschichte mehr und mehr zu einer Nebensache wird…….” it would seem that “The Great Beauty” is not unlike a very long music video – dreamlike, thus better to be surrendered to and experienced, rather than intellectualised about.

    I’m glad to see that the Man of Roma blog lives on after a year of silence. Seeing as it’s about Rome, the Eternal City, it would be nice if your blog could be as eternal as its subject. If this isn’t feasible, I hope you’ll at least contrive that the Man of Roma blog will be as eternal as possible!!

    A happy Winter Solstice to you.

    • Hello Christopher, so happy to hear from you again! I visited your new blog and I am now one of your followers. Can’t wait to read the adventures of this eccentric (and fictional, I suppose, since you must be my age) centenarian.

      I’m putting it at the top of my “films to see” list.

      It seems I’m doing good billing for this film. Actually, I find the soundtrack quite good. The melancholic music “My Heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here” is by Arvo Pärt (words by Robert Burns). ‘Ti ruberò’ is an old song by cantautore Bruno Lauzi, sung by Monica Cetti. And, the rhythm of the electro-pop music I find too entrancing.

      I won’t deny this film has got something, but, as a Roman, I am quite disturbed, plus I spot like an astute calculation (to entice foreigners) with the aim of winning an Academy Award.

      A happy Winter Solstice to you too, Christopher.

  3. Arvo Part!!!! My secret minimalist vice. I would never have expected to find him in a decadent film.

    • I understand what you mean. Weirdly enough, this “My heart’s in the Highlands” is one of the strengths of the film, diffusing like a meditative aura all around.

      And, visit Christopher’s new (& old) blog. It really got something.

  4. Pingback: Mad Men | Jeremy's Books and Films

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