A rootless Roman
Sorrentino’s extended (142-minute) rendition of aging journalist Gambardella’s (Servillo) search for lost passion as he wanders the beatifically lit streets of Rome is intentionally indebted to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, bringing to bear the full force of disillusionment and distance on a morally moribund city.
But surely the loneliness of a mature man, and his impotent devotion to formal perfection (Gambardella, we learn, never followed up on an early first novel), is also beholden to Aschenbach in Visconti’s Death in Venice which examines, as did Sorrentino’s 2004 Le conseguenze dell’amore, the failures of middle-aged life?
What saved both Visconti and Sorrentino’s earlier work from stultifying self-reflection were the protagonists’ choices to commit – fatally and foolishly – to the catastrophe of love. The near total absence of emotion in La grande bellezza makes this movie far less satisfying. Conversely, the film also fails to coalesce the longing displayed by minor characters (schoolgirl novices, lovers, sometime friends and the mentally unstable) into Fellini’s more wholesale irony. And so, a final, cryptic hint delivered by a centenarian nun on the necessity of rootedness just isn’t enough to act as counterbalance, comedic or not, to the stunning superficiality of Rome’s transient glories.
La Grande Bellezza | Directed by Paulo Sorrentino (Italy, France 2013) with Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli. Starts Jul 25.
Originally published in Issue #118, July/August 2013.