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Beyond Hollywood: La Grande Bellezza


Ben Lewis reviews the highly-acclaimed La Grande Bellezza, the latest release from eccentric director Paolo Sorrentino.

If ever there was a film to be defined by its name more than La Grande Bellezza, I’d be hard pushed to find one.

Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) sits on his throne. Image credit: The Guardian
Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) sits on his throne.
Image credit: The Guardian

Having successfully just beaten La Vie d’Adèle – better known as the infamous Blue is the Warmest Colour – to win the Best Foreign Language Film Picture Golden Globe, La Grande Bellezza is as current and critically acclaimed as they come.

La Grande Bellezza is an irresistibly stylish film and without doubt a much less depressing watch than Amour, which took the award last year.

The film’s ability to accentuate and portray the beauty of Rome is remarkable: the appropriately named Talia Concept (Anita Kravos), a middle-aged-hipster-cum-avant-garde artist, running into a stone pillar headfirst and screaming to her ‘audience’ looks entirely normal within the settings that director Paolo Sorrentino maneuvers.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Italian Government’s Tourism Department puts itself in contact with Sorrentino, whose visual brilliance feels like the non-hyper violent, non-bloody third musketeer to Tarantino and Nicolas Winding Refn.

It is necessary to emphasise this aesthetic because it contrasts so greatly with the principal themes of the film; protagonist Jep Gambardella’s (Toni Servillo) unfulfilled and debauched life, his heartbreak as a young man and the over-extravagant superficiality to Rome’s social elite – as well as the humour and sharp wit that runs throughout.

It’s a masterfully delicate handling by Sorrentino who also directed Gomorrah (a film adaption of a book by Roberto Saviano on the Camorra – quasi Neapolitan mafia – which I highly recommend).

Image credit: Collider
Image credit: Collider

The juxtaposition of flashbacks to Jep as a young man and emotional scenes with those of frivolous parties accentuates the divide between the front that Jep wears on the outside, and of that which he feels on the inside, exacerbating the melancholic qualities of the film.

Equally, there is plenty of humour to ensure La Grande Bellezza won’t leave you feeling as cold on the inside as the weather in the UK right now.

For example, in one scene Jep speaks with his neighbour, shortly before said neighbour is arrested for being one of the ten most wanted men in the world – at least up until that point – much to Jep’s surprise.

There’s also the characterisation of Jep himself, whose sharp wit and general light-hearted words prove to be a great source of amusement, such as when he asks his boss: “Please don’t send me to interview someone who head-butts walls again”, or lines such as “the only interesting jazz scene at the moment is the Ethiopian one”.

At times moving from a parody of pretentious ‘hipsterness’ to one man’s largely isolated and empty life to a more than two hour long holiday advert, I’m not too sure what I really saw. All I know is, I liked it.

Ben Lewis

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