Tuesday 22 October 2013

La Grande Bellezza

Toni Servillo in La Grande Bellezza
Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in La Grande Bellezza
In La Grande Bellezza, Sorrentino is altogether grander than in his previous works: the backdrop of Rome is more beautiful; the cinematography is more expansive; the clothes better tailored; and the music more elevating. So much so to contrast with the vulgarity of his protagonists and the ridicule with which he treats them. 

Never has Rome been shot in such beautiful light, with majestic vistas across its ancient rooftops and sumptuous scenes within the regal palazzos. They are accompanied all the while by the haunting chants of the a cappella choir. 

Then at once we are cast amongst the throngs of debauched revellers, all grotesque misfits. The thumping rhythms are motivating but the gyrations of the bloated, aged crowd are weird, even disturbing to watch. 

The judgment that Sorrentino passes on the populo Romano is damning. There is no great beauty: the pursuit of it is in vain. Yet in delivering his sentence, Sorrentino indulges in a far greater and darker humour than what he allows in Il Divo or the Consequences of Love. 

Toni Servillo continues to play Sorrentino's mouthpiece with ever more fluency, pouring out his lines with the deadpan flow that we've come to enjoy. Sorrentino, however, punctuates his delivery: the monologue revealed in the film's trailer, when Jep tells of his arrival in the great city and the whirl of its highlife, is broken up in the film with a the honk of a passing tourist riverboat and the foul-mouthed rantings of oncoming joggers. He will not allow the futility of his characters' lives to attain a sense of meaningful purpose. 

Sorrentino is as despondent of the state of his countrymen as Sam Mendes showed himself to be of his own nation in American Beauty. Yet he offers perhaps some hope. Since what lies beyond is out of our reach, there is the capacity to make something of the nothingness of our wretched situation. Where Flaubert failed to write a novel about nothing, Sorrentino has succeeded in creating a work that both despises and celebrates it.