The Great Beauty is a film of huge breadth and depth, one that is both ravishing to watch and bears repeated closer viewing. I watched it twice in one weekend, something I rarely if ever do. That second view if anything proved more rewarding than the first,perceiving more connections and picking up on more hints from the dialogue. Made by Paulo Sorrentino, its script, filming, editing and music are so interlinked, it is all simply quite superb, possessing exuberant flashes of visual and verbal wit
At the opening of the film a Japanese tourist dies whilst visiting one of the sights of Rome. With the piercing screech of a wild woman, the scene shifts abruptly to a party. It is Jep's 65th Birthday, and he's holding it for all his well connected Rome friends. Jep's a famous novelist, well he's famous for a novel he wrote years ago when he was in his twenties. These days he's a reviewer for magazines and attends lively arty parties. He's a man living on the back of past glories and reputation. Then a man turns up, the husband of a woman that Jep was in love with over forty yeays ago, he's come to tell him that she has died. From that moment on Jep's anxiety over the purpose of his life increases. He starts seeking out friends from his early life, becoming troubled by thoughts about who he is, who he has become, and what there is left for him to do with what remains of his life. Its a film of quite pertinent and universal concerns.
Why hasn't he written that second book? People explain that Jep is essentially lazy and has become the captive of Rome nightlife, at the expense of anything else. He asks a beautiful woman he's about to have sex with what job she does, to which she replies 'I'm rich', which is the end of that line of conversation. These are the sort of people he hob nobs with, and has become a part of. He attends their parties, watches ludicrous performance art, which most of the time he looks bored by or incredulous. His life is filled with hollow people and hollow activity.
A friend who is staging a magic show, creates the impression of a real live giraffe in a space, and he can make it disappear if he wants. Jep asks ' can you make me dissappear ' to which he replies 'it's just a trick Jep'. At the end of the movie in a voiceover Jep describes the whole of life as being a trick, in that it looks tangible and to have meaning, but appears to have none. There is the suggestion of an upbeat conclusion, as Jep seems ready to start that much anticipated second novel. The Great Beauty is a rich melancholy essay on meaning, aging and dieing, and I couldn't recommend it more highly. Its a definite must see, preferably more than once!