The goals of this ambitious young man were considered audacious to some, but he had already impressed Romans with the publication, in his twenties, of a novel that brought the bright lights of attention straight to his doorstep. Who was going to reject association with that kind of fame, especially in Berlusconi’s Rome, where celebrity, decadence and the glories of being rich are relished? The economy may be fragmenting, but that problem belongs to the middle-class.
The movie settles into a reverie as Gambardella rethinks his life while walking around Rome, seeking out familiar friends, encountering strangers, taking in familiar sights and being engaged by the impressions of the city around him. His editor nags him about not having written a second novel, believing he has reneged on the promise of his first book. But he seems to be developing a new mindset. Is it possible that he no longer wants to do what he loves to do? Is he finally weary of the limelight? Is he even capable of saying no to hosts and hostesses?
The intoxicating images we see of Rome are proof, if proof were needed, that the whole city is a postcard. Gambardella’s new emotional state creates conflict because of the allure and memory of his city. They are postcards he has little desire to send. He wants to retain his good memories, but he reflects on his past choices. Is he capable of experiencing regret? What do the men and women in his life mean to him? Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello’s sophisticated screenplay explores what’s important when personal values are upended.
As its title suggests, “The Great Beauty” is a beautiful motion picture, lavish in its sweeping widescreen appreciation of the possibilities of cinema. The imagery may have sprung from Sorrentino’s vision of modern Rome, but the stunning visuals are the work of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, who shot the movie using 35-millimeter film from Kodak. The colors are rich and warm. No cold digital flatness for this director and photographer.