La grande bellezza

★★★½
In English, the title means “The Great Beauty”. It certainly is.
Movie Review #963

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“La grande bellezza” (or “The Great Beauty”, as it is known in the USA) is a cinematic time machine, its controls set for the 1960s. The heyday of Italian cinema, kinged by none other than Federico Fellini. His muse Marcello Mastroianni’s conflicted psychological standpoint in “8½” is practically reborn in “Bellezza” for the characterization of our aging, burdened protagonist, Jep (Toni Servillo). His wild, party-like atmosphere from “La Dolce Vita” translates in “Bellezza” as just that. One moment, we’re beelining to everywhere and back in a nightclub, and the next, we’re faced with the grave but eager desire to recall past experiences.

Our director, Paolo Sorrentino, owes a great deal to Fellini, but he’s certainly made “La grande bellezza” an exceptional film in its own right. The title is well-deserved—so much that I can’t fathom how it was snubbed of a Best Cinematography Oscar. The shots of Rome are absolutely beautiful, and I say this with regard not only to the exteriors but also the interiors. The fusion of sight and sound in various nightclub scenes creates a fierce, sultry, adrenalized environment for this modern ode to Rome. Such scenes are absolutely anything but calm, and yet their power is matched by the serenity of most every landscape in sight.

The visuals alone are enough to sustain an entire viewing, and that’s quite a feat considering the length of the film: nearly two and a half hours. The film flaunts a very large cast, and often times it seems unsure of how to handle that. It’s not always the most comprehensive tale, but it’s massively engaging due to its fast-paced dialogue and its utterly surreal nature. Here, we follow the journey of an Jep, aging man as he attempts to remember the woman he loved when he was eighteen years old. The establishment of our protagonist is magnificently poetic, in that he’s traveling a journey that is psychological as well as physical. The film’s utterly individualist narrative beautifully contrasts its large cast and its depiction of a metropolitan environment.

“La grande bellezza” is an amazingly fluent film. It travels along through its plot in a series of conversations and narrations. The dialogue is practically stream-of-consciousness. These characters will keep talking about one topic until it leads to another and then another and then another. It flies through its dialogue, vivace and legato, its characters rapidly volleying their lines to one another; if you don’t speak much Italian, verify that you are a quick reader. But this part of its style is just as much a figment of its “great beauty” as anything else here.

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