'The Great Beauty' is perhaps the most aptly named cinematic piece that has ever been produced. For over 2 hours, scene after scene of exquisite cinematography plays, capturing interest from the initial unnerving spectacle. Superficially, the film is in the style of realism; it does not gloss over any aspects of the protagonist's life, and yet at the same time, it is wildly fantastical - a daydream of extravagance and absurdity without ugliness or lack of style.
The film's focus is on the past and present life of Italian socialite, Jep Gambardella. Although his youth is behind him, his social network (himself at the forefront) possess the wealth to continue living in an eternal teenage dream in their magnificent city of Rome. Extravagant and mesmerising parties stretch late into the night. However, Gamberdella merely attends these events, maintaining a rather fixed, melancholy appearance; a consequence of his past (seemingly much regretted.)
The aliveness of the film is palpable and yet it is less so the characters that seem alive than the city itself. The people contrastingly seem stuck in a rut. The wandering, impulsive Gambardella strolls through Rome, mainly at night, purposeless and sorrowful and yet the self-proclaimed 'King of the high life.' There is no structured plot as such and this is reflected in the rambling nature of Gamberdella's life. He is disinterested, frustrated, living on the memories of his mysterious young love and the acclaim of an early novel. Indeed, his friends are also shown to live isolated, vacant lives when dawn comes and the dancing has ceased.
The common philosophy that money will be eternally inferior to love is the essence of the film, with 'The Great Beauty' implicitly referring to love (rather than visual beauty.) This is inferred when Gamberdella's close friend migrates from the city, stating that 'Rome has disappointed' him and that he was unable to find 'The Great Beauty.' Nonetheless, he has inhabited Rome for years amongst the most beautiful people in the most beautiful clothes, living in the most beautiful city. This is where we realise that this 'beauty' is tenderness and affection. The film almost acts as a warning against involvement in the wild world of elitism. It seems to say that 'privileged' lives will only ever be wonderful to the jealous observer whilst the aristocrats themselves will be deeply discontent. In this way, the character of Stefania is a metaphor for the high life. She boasts of her successes but is harshly disillusioned by the evermore cynical Gambardella as to the underlying problems in her life, stemming from a lack of emotional attachment. This is true of every character in the film.
I anticipate that visiting Rome after watching this film would be to experience a crushingly bitter disappointment because without any hint of the mythical, the film is enthrallingly magical, not least because of the city that it portrays. To visit Rome would amount to watching a production of your favourite book, only to find that the characters are not at all akin to those visualised in your mind and that the events are not as spectacular as previously thought. Rome simply cannot live up to its portrayal; Paolo Sorrentino has created a glossy facade of Rome - not a speck of dirt is seen, not an average individual (in fact, the utmost effort has been made to individualise each character so that the cast is a circus of curiosities.) Perhaps this was purposeful if only to highlight the separation between the life of the socialites and the reality of the unrepresented normal citizens of the city.
The film ends with characteristically understated style and once the sheer elegance of the film has worn off, you are left with the poignant themes of loss, sacrifice and regret.
(As if this film were not brilliant enough, it is also conveniently available on Netflix.)