La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)


I don’t get to see many films, especially films in the movie theater. No time. No stomach for the prices. No patience for bad art. So
I’m not sure what possessed me two weeks ago when I informed my husband that we were going to see a film about which we knew nothing at our local cheapo second-run theater. It was an Italian art house-y film and all I knew was the title … sort of (“the title is similar to Life is Beautiful, except I don’t think it’s a WWII movie”). I also knew that I did NOT want to give another Friday night to what I was afraid was becoming a pattern — sitting at my computer and working on contact notes until I dozed off with my finger pads on the keyboard, only to be interrupted by the jarring bolt of noise created by the timer on the clothes dryer. No thank you! I was going to this $3 art house movie with or without him, and if the movie turned out to be a stinker at least I could nap without being interrupted by the dryer buzzer.

Nap I did not.

The movie is so good, we snuck away from the house to see the 8:00 showing again last night. leaving behind the teens with their wayward schedules, the lengthy to-do list from work, the piles of laundry calling out to me with their siren songs luring me to crash upon their stacks of dirty boy jeans and multitude of socks that will never evenly pair up.

jep hammock

Jep! Look to your right!

La Grande Bellezza. “The Great Beauty.” What is so magical about this film is how we are never really sure who or what the “great beauty” is or where it can be found. The lead character Jep has an epiphany that, despite the fact he is living the ultimate Euro-Trash dream life in Rome, it’s fairly empty and meaningless. The film allows us to see through his eyes as he starts to look around more, pay attention more to the scenes around him and recognize beauty where he had not been looking before. But yet he is not able to engage with what he sees around him and outside of him — he only observes. Yes, the character is a writer and should be “observing” for his art… except the most important fact that is reinforced time and time again is that Jep has not actually written any thing in 35 years. So he has this epiphany, he wakes up, and he watches… without taking any steps to engage, interact, or even react. Beautiful scenes of a nun playing tag with young children in a walled garden. Elderly royal women sitting in an ancient drawing room surrounded by priceless treasures while playing cards and gambling. Does he ever look down onto the Colosseum ruins that are just across the street from his decadent veranda?

Not only does he fail to fully appreciate and possess the beauty of the world that is just outside of him and all around him, but I am not sure he is ever able to fully comprehend the capriciousness and falsity of the “beauty” of his swinging socialite life. He knows expensive high class art when he sees it, but does he hold on to it for very long? He recognizes the truly absurd sometimes and mocks it for his own pleasure: the scene of him interviewing the ridiculous performance artist just after she ran naked head first The Great Beauty_filmsandpies_0012into a section of an ancient aqueduct is priceless. But it’s a serious flaw of character that he does not (or cannot) apply the same level of scrutiny to the performance art of a little girl forced by her parents to throw cans of paint on a giant canvas for the amusement of the adult party-goers. Jep’s date, who is not accustomed to these scenes, points out that the girl is crying, she is being tormented. Jep just brushes this off. She’s an artist!

There is so much more to say about this film and what I took away from it, especially the shallow human connections. More later.


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