The Great Beauty, the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the recent Academy Awards, uses the camera to explore the vast landscape of a man’s soul as it captures the beauty of Rome. This human, probing and ultimately loving film is available in selected area theaters, as well as on demand and online.
Film is a visual medium. While the words we hear enhance the experience, advance the story and develop the characters, a movie can capture our attention purely through the images it creates. And when a film’s language is not our own, we may rely on the visual experience to connect us to the plot and people.
Of the recent nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, the winner, and a visual thrill of the movie year, is a gentle character study from Italy, The Great Beauty. Its story, of an older man who begins to question his choices in life, carefully reveals the disappointments that come with age, when the soul recognizes what the years may not bring. The visual experience director Paolo Sorrentino creates is so unique, and so true to the story, that we need little dialogue to share a challenging chapter in this man’s life as he faces the realization that he can never go back to redo the parts of his life he now views with regret.
The film opens with a thrilling capture of a wild party to celebrate the 65th birthday a much-loved man. Jep is a charismatic fellow who frequently finds himself surrounded by people who dearly love him, cater to his dynamic personality, and find special places in their lives for his humor, compassion and caring. Despite all his friends, and his happy-go-lucky lifestyle, Jep is essentially a lonely man, sorely missing one relationship to carry him through the ups and downs of each day. While he is professionally successful (as a writer) and emotionally available (as a friend) he disguises the emptiness he feels with the lively parties he experiences. Only when he faces a sudden end to one special relationship does he begin to question the validity and value of the choices he makes.
Of course, such a story could take place in any city, in any language; that it unfolds in the Eternal City makes the visual experience all the richer. How wonderful when, as Jep celebrates with his friends during a lovely evening on a rooftop, the camera must only slightly move to reveal the Coliseum in its lighted splendor. Or how many lovely streets of the city play host to various conversations and confrontations. Director Sorrentino, working in a visual style reminiscent of the best of Federico Fellini, makes the city as much a supporting character in the film as some of the speaking roles.
That Jep lives in Rome adds to the romance of his dilemma as well as the context of his choice. His myriad of relationships feels all the more overwhelming before a backdrop of one of the world’s most beautiful places. Toni Servillo brings the authenticity of a character actor to the leading man role, never trying to hide the layers of life that form the man’s reactions to his choices. He convincingly commands the emotional center of the film, a presence made even more necessary by the visual speed and variety of Sorrentino’s approach to the visual experience.
Like the best of films, The Great Beauty celebrates its scenic wonders with minimal waste. Sorrentino simply lets the camera roam, and the characters thrive, to tell his story of what life can be when people honestly confront what life has become.
Film Nutritional Value
The Great Beauty
* Content: High. One man’s journey to a life of satisfaction and meaning – and his process of dealing with his romantic regrets – beautifully plays against a backdrop of the lovely vistas of Rome.
* Entertainment: High. Director Paolo Sorrentino uses the camera to reveal how lovely the city can be at the same time he explores how troubled his characters can be.
* Message: Medium. While the film has a lot to say about regret and reinvention, it never lets itself get too serious about its moral; Sorrentino always wants to entertain, never bore.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to get to know a well-developed character and spend time experiencing a beautiful location is well worth the time at the movies.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. While The Great Beauty represents the best of foreign language cinema, it also illustrates the potential of discovering the meaning of an essentially visual experience.
(The Great Beauty is not rated, and contains adult content. The film runs 142 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets