It’s (almost) Friday night. You’ve got your Italian Aperitivo; you’ve made an Instagram-worthy appetizer and now, after a long week schlepping from work to the ‘burbs and back, is there anything left to do but get your international film on? No, no there’s not, my friend. And may I recommend tonight’s foreign film find?
There’s nothing quite like reading a great book, or in this case, watching a great movie that makes you really think on things and reflect, even after the credits roll. Such is the case with La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), a 2013 Italian Film and Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film.
I know the film is four years old but, I’ve been a little busy. When the film first came out, I unintentionally heard about it while leaving a soccer-watching lunch date with my husband at Trinity Hall Pub in Dallas. It was showing next door at the Angelika Theater and, being the Italophile that I am, I mentally made a date with the movie and finally, last night, I watched it and, as promised, it was as dazzling as it was thought-provoking and if you’ve never been to Rome, you’ll feel as though you have when the show stops. You can watch the trailer here.
On the surface it is the story of a self-indulgent 65 year old Italian named Jep, a man who reached fame and fortune at a young age with the publication and success of his first and only novel. We don’t meet him until his 65th birthday party, but we’re quickly brought up to speed on what he has been up to with his life: debaucherous dance parties and going to bed with the sunrise; wasting the days away and all the while ignorant to the privilege of viewing Rome in a way only a select few get to experience-late night strolls through private and priceless gardens and sharing space with timeless paintings and sculptures. In fact, Rome is practically a character in the film. The movie is as much an Ode To The Beauty of Rome as it is a Foreign Film about a man’s life.
We’re told Jep has lived his whole life in Rome, and it seems that with each breathtaking camera-span and angle of the Eternal City, Jep is widely unmoved and uninspired-he cannot see the ‘great beauties’ right in front of him.
Much of the movie is also about death and how death sharply contrasts the frivolity with which Jep is living his life, filled with meaningless parties and company, cigarettes, and a countless stream of Italian beauties. One of my favorite juxtaposition of characters in the movie is Jep versus ‘The Saint’ who we meet towards both the end of the movie and the end of this woman’s life; A 104 year old woman who has dedicated her life to poverty in Africa and prefers to sleep on the floor despite the plentiful offerings in Jep’s comfortable home.
A memorable moment in the film is watching this woman, with great discomfort but strength, ascend on her knees (as is the custom) the Scala Santa, ending at the top, and resting her body, exhausted, over the wooden cross that she wears around her neck. The sacrifice, commitment, and inner-strength of this brittle woman in climbing these stairs on her 104-year old knees in comparison to the selfish and reckless Jep is a poignant point in the movie and one I found myself reflecting on days later.
Overall, this film was indeed beautiful. You can feel a ‘lull’ in the middle when watching party after party, strange artist after strange artist, but you’re meant to be brought into Jep’s world a little and even in the relatively short span of the film you get ‘un po noioso’ ( a little bored) with that same scene, just as Jep is feeling the same with the meaningless repetitiveness that defines his life.
So make yourself a drink, watch La Grande Bellezza and enjoy this stunning film tonight!
“This is how it always ends, with death. But first there was life. Hidden beneath the blah, blah, blah. It is all settled beneath the the chitter chatter and the noise. Silence and sentiment. Emotion and Fear. The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty. And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity. All buried under the cover of the embarrassment of being in the world. Beyond there is what lies beyond. I don’t deal with what lies beyond. Therefore, let this novel begin. After all it’s just a trick. Yes, just a trick.”
-La Grande Bellezza