The Search for Beauty


By Nicholas Lemos

The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s recent Academy Award winner (for Best Foreign Language Film), is a beautiful, intelligent narrative of success, failure, life, lost love and death that harkens back to the greatness of Federico Fellini.  Sorrentino’s previous work includes This Must Be the Place (2011) and The Consequences of Love (2004).  Great performances, beautiful cinematography, and a wonderful and haunting score help make this film one of the best of last year.  Equal parts drama, comedy, and romance, The Great Beauty spins an excellent tale of aging and its consequences.             

The focus is on Jep Gambardella (played magnificently by Toni Servillo), a once-successful writer whose life has been composed almost entirely of indulgence within the party scene of Rome.  The film begins with his 65th birthday, commemorated by an unabashedly over-the-top party.  Shortly after the celebration, Jep discovers that a former lover from his youth has passed away – one who, he is told, loved him even at the end.  This forces Jep to reflect on his luxurious but empty lifestyle and to try and find meaning in his life while the specter of lost love haunts him.

One grossly underrated aspect of the film is the cinematography of Luca Bigazzi, which unquestionably should have been a contender for the Academy Award.  Bigazzi’s camera breathes life into Rome, making the city a living character rather than just mere background.  Between the exuberant party sequences, the peaceful imagery of Italy’s beaches and the majesty of Rome’s landmarks, Bigazzi perfectly captures the mood of every scene.  

Jep’s journey is a universally relatable one of reflection and grief, an uncommon thing to be found in cinema.  Who doesn’t have doubts?  Who is without regret?  At the very least, we can all concede a wish for something in the past to have happened differently.  I cannot personally recommend this film more; it encapsulates the city of Rome in a truly remarkable way and is honest in its rendering of a mournful man.  The Great Beauty is not to be missed – a film with an ambitious title it somehow manages to live up to.