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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘La Grande Bellezza’ is foreign frontrunner at Oscars


    Indigo Film

    With the mainstream fare this past weekend not providing anything of note (“Pompeii” and “3 Days to Kill” don’t look like much), let’s turn back to films slightly off of the beaten Hollywood path. “The Great Beauty” (in its native Italian “La grande bellezza”) is an art house film about Rome’s high class as it tries to stay young and relevant against the vivid backdrop of a city that entertains and haunts.

    “The Great Beauty” opens with a party as extravagant as any that you would find in a Baz Luhrmann film. Italian luminaries cavort, fool around and throw drinks on themselves on the rooftop of an apartment in Rome that overlooks the Coliseum. All of this decadence is to celebrate the 65th birthday of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), an aging Italian playboy who found instant fame and fortune in his early 20s when he penned a famous novel. He tells the audience that he wanted to own the high life even more than he wanted to be a part of it. He didn’t want to simply throw great parties; he wanted to have the power to make parties a failure.

    Though he still parties and rubs shoulders with the who’s who of Rome, at his age the lifestyle starts to lose its sheen. When tragedy hits, his acerbic wit and increasing disillusionment leads to detachment, and he begins to look back on his life.
    In typical European art house fashion, the film spends time on scenes that would barely register in a typical Hollywood flick. The bourgeois socialites lounge about and reflect on their lives and dreams for the future. Jeb’s friend Lello Cava (Carlo Buccirosso) still yearns to put a play on the stage.

    The visuals of “The Great Beauty” are resplendent and bizarre. As Gambardella walks the streets of Rome at night, we accompany him as if walking with him in a waking dream. In the opening scene, exotic-looking women dance before wall-length windows, on display for the world to see. A giraffe stands amongst the ancient architecture of the city as a magician acquaintance of Gambardella practices making the creature disappear.

    Yet beyond the luscious sights and epic bacchanals lie broken hopes and melancholy. Director Paolo Sorrentino has crafted a modern-day Italy that is as much a character as any of its denizens. In fact, Rome may be the most prominent character of the film. The canvas is just as important as the paints that play upon it.

    Servillo leads an ensemble of a wonderful variety. His performance is nuanced and an excellent cast surrounds him. They all bring to light their characters’ flaws and doubts in their older age as they try to chase youth.

    Some parts of the film feel a little disparate and disjointed, and the film may not be as grandiose and sweeping as it hopes to be. I may be mistaken, but I remain unconvinced. This Italian film is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, and looks to be the frontrunner. I’ve only seen one other film in the category, Denmark’s “The Hunt,” and I would place Denmark’s offering over Italy’s. However, “The Great Beauty” winning would not be an epic tragedy, for it’s a tale of loss and living against a sumptuous backdrop tinged with the melancholy of a gone-by youth.

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