The Great Beauty

Released:  2013

Cast:  Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso

Oscar Wins:  Best Foreign Language Film (Italy — Paolo Sorrentino)

SUMMARY:  Famed Italian journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) celebrates his 65th birthday with a huge, lavish party.  Jep wrote a semi-famous novel in his 20s, but has not written a book since, sticking instead to interviews done within Rome.  A few days after his birthday, Jep learns that a woman he once dated has died.  Jep gets the news from the woman’s husband; even though they had been married for 35 years, the man that his wife truly loved Jep, not him.  The woman, Elisa, seems to also have been one of, if not the only, love of Jep’s life.  This knowledge deeply affects Jep, and he begins to question the purpose and direction of his life.  As a young man, he wanted to conquer the world and be the person Rome revolved around, and while this ambition has been partly fulfilled, Jep does not wield quite the influence he once hoped for.  One of the first signs of the change in Jep comes when he confronts a friend who is bragging about the sacrifices she has made in her life, and her dedication to her husband and children.  Very calmly Jep tells her that her sacrifices are negligible, particularly in her current wealthy status; her husband is in love with another man, which is an open secret, and she spends almost no time with her children.  The other friends are horrified, and the scorned woman storms out.

Jep soon reunites with an old friend who manages a strip club.  To the man’s great disappointment, his 42-year-old daughter Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli) insists on dancing in the club, insisting that she needs the money for some undisclosed reason.  The man introduces Jep to Ramona, and once she figures out he is not looking for sex, the two strike up a friendship.  Ramona is different from the women Jep usually spends time with:  she has not lived a life of luxury, and is not nearly so impressed with his status and history.  For his part, Jep delights in exposing Ramona to things she has not had access to, like secret art collections owned by aging princesses.  A physical relationship does eventually develop, but Ramona reveals that she works in order to make money to pay for medical treatments.  Just a short time later, she dies.  Jep again seems to be lost, wandering aimlessly through his surroundings.  Finally he is assigned a new interview by his editor.  The subject is a living saint, the 104-year-old nun Sister Maria, who is visiting Rome.  Religious dignitaries come to Rome from all oer the world to meet Sister Maria, bu Jep learns quickly that his interview was a misunderstanding.  However, as he is hosting a dinner for the Sister in his house, he does have access to her.  The Sister says very little, leaving most of the communication to her personal assistant.  The few words she does utter, though, are deep and well-thought, and have an impact on everyone around her.  As the film ends, Jep continues to live his rather lavish lifestyle, but more happily; he also makes up with the friend he insulted.

MY TAKE:  I swear, every recent movie on the list is either ambiguous or completely indecipherable (or both).  This movie falls into the indecipherable category, as there is absolutely no plot line.  Summaries suggest that Jep goes through an event that makes him relive an earlier time in his life, which is then the main story of the movie, but this isn’t what happens at all.  The “big event”, the death of Elise, does seem to rock Jep’s world a little bit, but he has about two really, really brief flashbacks, and none of their romance is ever explained.  He doesn’t relive earlier parts of his life, although he sometimes mentions them in a voiceover.  Instead, he goes through a seemingly random series of events, meets some new people, and really doesn’t change much about his life.  He does seem to be more accepting of things, and perhaps more self-aware, but he still returns to his old friends.  Critics absolutely raved about this movie, which I really don’t understand.  They’ve called it beautiful and Fellini-esque, as well as moving, engaging, etc.  I would agree that it is beautiful; it’s set in Rome, and Jep’s apartment overlooks the Colosseum.  Of course it’s beautiful.  It’s like shooting a movie in Montana or Wyoming, where the natural beauty is impossible to hide or ignore.  I haven’t seen a lot of Fellini films, but I tend to find them indecipherable and un-entertaining, and I did not find this one particularly gripping or special.  I mentioned a few days ago that I base my opinions of movies on entertainment value and the way it makes me feel, not on technical merit or aspects like that, which means I neither understand nor enjoy art films.  While the scenery in this movie is great, the total lack of storyline turned me completely off.

RATING:  Two and a half hours of subtitles for nothing.

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