How many of the foreign films nominated for an Academy Award this year have you seen? That’s okay—forget I asked. I’m guilty, you’re guilty. Everyone’s guilty. All are punished.
And like me, you’re probably also guilty of never even having heard of La grande belleza (The Great Beauty) until this week. The latest film from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, Beauty is a visual bacchanal with a surreal flavor and tastefully delivered moral; it’s also a Golden Globe-winner and a serious contender for an Academy Award. Sorrentino presents the tale of Jep Gambardella, a 65-year old man who wrote an acclaimed novel in his youth before becoming the king of Rome’s social scene. Picture a man equal parts Capote and Clooney, with a dash of Hefner for a kick. Then picture this man grappling with his existential discontents for the first time in his life.
Sounds hokey, no? It would be if Sorrentino hadn’t so masterfully crafted his story and its presentation. While The Great Beauty has a linear progression, Sorrentino constantly forces the story off course with seemingly arbitrary excerpts from Jep’s life. The random dinner parties and one-night stands don’t quite mesh with the assorted relationships and afternoon strolls in terms of narrative, but together they reveal a complete portrait of a magnetic personality. That personality is played deftly by Toni Servillo, whose performance is as graceful as it is compelling.
The Great Beauty asks the proverbial “big questions,” but with much more poise and poignancy than I could reproduce here. What I can tell you is how it asks them, because the answer is obvious—The Great Beauty is absolutely beautiful, unquestionably the most gorgeous film nominated for an Academy Award this year.