La Grande Bellezza

This week we have designer and embroidery specialist Scott Ramsay Kyle discussing Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013)a compelling portrayal of present-day Rome in all its decadence.

Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013) is a combination of many wonderful things; a considered score, references to a crass contemporary art scene (only the stripper notices the child prodigy’s tears), fashion and its silhouette, and our protagonist –  a recently turned 65-year-old Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a slender, caring man, more Redford’s Gatsby than DiCaprio’s, a man who gets away with calling his cleaning lady a ‘little rascal’ without making it sound patronising or harsh.


The film opens with a group of women singing above a pool of water, akin to a Greco-Roman chorus glancing down at the narrative as it unfolds. The camera then flips upside down to reveal a throb of party goers, living like devilish demons inside a choreographed moment, as if caught within the triptych Garden Of Earthly Delights for an unending period of temptation.
As we get to know our sexagenarian Jep, he strolls along the river reflecting that at 26 he wanted to be part of Roma’s ‘whirlpool of the high-life’ and he succeeded in becoming its ‘King’. There are echoes of Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ here, not in terms of loss or forgetfulness, but of grace and poise and allowing key actors of a certain age the opportunity to examine and reveal themselves to the audience. But La Grande Bellezza is also enjoyably contradictory, as we grimace alongside the frenetic partying of awkward ‘Mum & Dad’ dancing, booze, drugs, a failed three-some, and a 104-year-old nun, Sister Maria who beckons the producers to increase their budget to fit in some CGI flamingos.
After Jep kindly brings his friend Stefania (Galatea Ranzi) back to earth, it is with great care that he consoles her about ‘a life in tatters, just like the rest of us’, in a way that is touching and not vindictive, serious but not emotionally stifling. And again when at a dinner party someone asks him of his guest, a quiet poet, “why does he not talk?”, Jep simply replies; “because he listens.”
A beautifully constructed score, the music balances from high synth-euro pop Bob Sinclair in the wild party scenes to Georges Bizet, in the more tonal moments. But this all feels natural to the characters who live lives governed by their Epicurean hedonism, like a late 80’s Malcolm MacLaren fusion. Time however does finally catch up with some of them as we start to lose few of Jep’s friends, but it already feels like time to let them go.
La Grande Bellezza is a high-end Italian parody of reality, that makes you feel like you’ve fallen into a soap opera but without the fluro colours of Pedro Almodovar. The finish and textures here are richer, rich in wastefulness and excessiveness and we haven’t even got to the beach flashbacks, vanishing giraffe or the disappointing broken hearts yet. There is a lot to experience here and I would definitely partake in it all over again. Bello!’


A big thank you to the very talented Scott Ramsay Kyle who you can also follow on Twitter. We’re intrigued and are making our way to see this film pronto!

And here’s the English version of the trailer if your Italian, German and French are as non-existent as ours.

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