“Beyond there is what lies beyond. And I don’t deal with what lies beyond.”
To me, someone who hasn’t seen nearly enough foreign movies, the idea of Italian cinema brings up pretty strong, stereotypical visuals. There’s gorgeous people in impeccably tailored suits and designer dresses, going from one glamorous party to the next, banging each other silly and never getting hung up on emotions. And then, at some stage, they start to question that lifestyle and want something with more substance. The most interesting part is, no matter how much I think that’s a cliché, when the people and places look so good, I don’t mind seeing it again and again and again. Which is why The Great Beauty looked so appealing to me.
Jep (Toni Servillo) is the aging party king of Rome. He wrote a single novel 40 years ago and has lived off its success ever since, as a party going, party throwing society writer. From his swanky pad overlooking the Coliseum, he entertains Rome’s society elite and lives the life a man half his age would envy. But after his 60th birthday, Jep starts to wonder if there’s more to life.
Going from one party to the next, new characters are introduced, others recur and the woes of present day Italy are compared to the world all of these people grew up in decades earlier. But one thing is constant, none of them are satisfied, and all are chasing goals that are either unattainable or will be revealed as unfulfilling.
Jep is a great character to build this meandering story around because The Great Beauty takes the time and makes the effort to flesh him out so completely. His life is enviable on the surface, but you can see how it might become vacuous after a while. He realises he needs to change and be a better man if he’s ever going to find a purpose, but it’s not an epiphany that changes him overnight. Jep struggles between doing what is right, and doing what is easy and immediately rewarding. And sometimes, he’s a petty selfish prick about it, doing his best to hurt other people out of self preservation every time he feels a little vulnerable.
The Great Beauty knows that his problems and solving them are bigger than something a story covering a few days, or even weeks, can resolve. It’s not trying to say Jep is a changed and better man, or even that he definitely will become one. More realistically, it’s more about Jep deciding he needs to be a changed and better man. And that realisation is made to seem more impressive than if he managed to actually pull it off.
Full of gorgeous people in impeccably tailored suits and designer dresses, going from one glamorous party to the next and banging each other silly, The Great Beauty might confirm a few stereotypes I have about Italian cinema, but it uses them all to tell a great story. Jep is enviable and tragic all at once. And even if you hate him or don’t care about his story, you could still watch this movie with the sound down and be blown away by the world he lives in.