“It’s Just a Trick. Yes, It’s Just a Trick.”
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is a film that exposes a exciting voice that is at once familiar and entirely unique, that of director/writer Paolo Sorrentino. It is not only exquisitely beautiful to look at but a comment (or is it a question?) on the nature of art and storytelling.
Looking into the lavish but empty (seemingly so) world of the upper crust of the creative class in Modern Italy, it brings into question why do we make art and tell stories in the first place. Does it have meaning to others, to the artist, to the universe or is it purely out of self-aware egotism? Or is it because we are born to and must do what we are born to do.
That the film leaves a resonating question mark in your mind is an understatement. I pondered the film for days on end and my observations continuously change. Yes, I am being ambiguous, but so is this film.
Certain questions are meant to arise: What does living a fulfilled life mean? What is art and does it really exist? Is it selfish and or selfless and does either make it better or worse? What does love truly look like? How fragile are we and how numb are we to it? Does it make us strong or weak?
However, the central question always coming back to – Why hasn’t Jep written again? Sorrentino and the incredible Toni Servillo as Jep, a writer who at 65 has written one “masterpiece” and nothing since know (and learn) that life is ambiguous and interpretive. Jep offers a myriad of excuses throughout the film when asked “why?” but you are never given the concrete answer. This is not something to be frustrated by, but to be provoked by. It forces you to contemplate why we live the way we do. Did he not write again due to fear? Did he have nothing left to say? Did he know it would not matter because a novel is just a magic trick filled with wordplay and manipulation? Life is just that to Jep, and maybe it is the living of a lonely opulent life that will be the subject of his next novel, or his next trick.
Sorrentino, like all great magicians, uses misdirection. The ending is ambiguous in a wonderfully perplexing way, only furthering the questions the movie poses but never answering them. Perhaps, the search for the answers is the trick, and what a marvelous and magical trick it is.
Filled with lush photography, pathos filled dialogue, and a free flowing structure it is a film reminiscent of the work of Fellini but it has a meticulousness and freshness to it that keeps the film a true original. A modern masterpiece playing a huge wonderful trick on the world of Cinema .
The Great Beauty won the 2013 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and is available NOW from The Criterion Collection on Blu-Ray/DVD.