THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA) (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, January 10, 7:00
Series continues through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Told with the surreal flair of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 8½, the dark, witty cynicism of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and Deconstructing Harry, and the psychological intricacies of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is a masterful epic about an Italian writer looking back at his life as he turns sixty-five, and not liking what he sees. Toni Servillo gives a sparkling deadpan performance as Jep Gambardella, a deeply sarcastic and intentionally hypocritical journalist in Rome who scored a huge success with his first novel, The Human Apparatus, but has been unable to write a follow-up for decades, instead spending his time attending wild parties, sleeping with woman after woman, and sharing his unique views on the sociocultural, political, and religious nature of modern-day Rome. He is surrounded by sycophants, jealous writers, a mysterious neighbor, a culinary cardinal, bizarre performance artists, an aging stripper, a magician, and many more hangers-on (played by Isabella Ferrari, Roberto Herlitzka, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Verdone, Massimo De Francovich, Pamela Villoresi, and others who appear to have come straight from a Fellini set), but the only person who truly understands him is his diminutive editor, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola). “You’re a spectacular woman,” he tells her. “You’ve had the career you deserve.” She responds, “But you haven’t had the career you deserve.”
Written by Sorrentino with Umberto Contarello, who previously collaborated on Sorrentino’s first English-language film, This Must Be the Place, The Great Beauty is a visual and aural delight from start to finish, featuring gorgeous cinematography by regular Sorrentino DP Luca Bigazzi, glorious sets by Stefania Cella, dazzling art direction by Ludovica Ferrario, and a lovely melancholy score by Lele Marchiteli. Sorrentino (Il Divo: The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti, The Consequences of Love, both of which also starred Servillo) gives tremendous care to every shot, imbuing each moment with its own poetry and meaning, often focusing on the vast cityscape of Rome; the sky, where birds are migrating; and water, whether slowly moving rivers, historic fountains, or ritzy swimming pools. But the key element in the film, which is Italy’s official entry for the 2014 Academy Awards and has made the Oscar short-list, is Servillo’s steady, intelligent, yet sad face, his eyes seeing a lot more than just what’s in front of him. It’s an epic performance in an epic film. The Great Beauty is screening January 10 at 7:00 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of exemplary films the museum believes will stand the test of time; upcoming entries include John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, Pema Tseden’s Old Dog, and Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley.