And the Winner Is:'The Great Beauty' for Best Foreign Language Film

Interviews
by Sydney Levine
March 3, 2014 11:00 AM
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Paolo Sorrentino and Toni Servillo on the set of "The Great Beauty."

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), Italy’s Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film

Inspirational and awe-inspiring are the words that come to mind first when I think about the great movie just out of Italy, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) from acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino ( Il Divo, The Consequences of Love, This Must be the Place) with a screenplay by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello.

I could watch this film over and over again and still be inspired by the beauty of Rome and the depth of its flaneur, the hero of this film, journalist Jep Gambardella as played by the incomparable Toni Servillo (Gomorrah, Il Divo). In fact, after interviewing Paolo Sorrentino recently at the Chateau Marmont, I feel compelled to watch it again in order to understand the ending’s reference to what might have been the subject of the original and only book Jeb ever wrote which was perhaps (according to Paolo) “about the love he had for the girl -- and you can see that at the end of the movie”.

During my interview, I tried not to discuss how the film carries echoes of the classic works of Federico Fellini as Sorrentino had already gone on record stating that, “Roma and La Dolce Vita are works that you cannot pretend to ignore when you take on a film like the one I wanted to make. They are two masterpieces and the golden rule is that masterpieces should be watched but not imitated. I tried to stick to that. But it’s also true that masterpieces transform the way we feel and perceive things.”

Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

A dazzling tour through modern day Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella gives us feelings for grandeur whose beauty can lead to death, to dangerous adventures leading nowhere and to a certain level of sadness. When his 65th birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.

The stripper daughter of his old friend and nightclub owner represents a simpler normality as does his housekeeper. Both are touchstones to a reality he has abandoned since becoming a permanent fixture in Rome’s literary and social circles after the legendary success of his one and only novel. Armed with a roguish charm, he has seduced his way through the city's lavish night life for decades.

As an interviewer for popular press, his curiosity about everything is satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time. He finds his yearning for simplicity is sparked when he rather cynically interviews a saintly nun and more importantly, he finds the seed for his next book in the simple, normal lives of ordinary people and in the fragility of those snobbish, superficial, gossiping “friends” with whom he has spent too much time weaving a uselessly complicated life of nothingness, living in a world which makes no sense.

There are many literary references in the film – Flaubert who wanted to write a book about nothing, Proust whose masterpiece “capitalizes on his own biography”, Celine whose opening line to his novel Journey to the End of the Night is also the film’s opening line.

This quote from Celine is a declaration of intent that I followed in turn in the film. It comes down to saying: there’s reality, but everything is invented too. Invention is necessary in cinema, just to attain the truth.

What is it about the Flaubert references?

Flaubert said he wanted to write a book about nothing. This gave him the right to write about the frivolous, gossip, nothing and it acquired a literary standing. Nothingness becomes life. It takes on a life of its own and life’s nothingness is its beauty.

Jeb is living it among awkward, weak people, even hateful people. This is life and all of it belongs to The Great Beauty. The immediacy of the beauty of Rome is obvious, but the subterranean part – like these horrible people around him, you realize they are are also so vulnerable and fragile and that gives them and him the redeeming grace of beauty. The communist writer is emblematic.

Are you an intellectual?

I don’t like to think that I am. I do read a lot. I read more than I watch movies.

What do you do in your free time?

I hibernate. I hibernate until the next project takes shape in my mind. I watch a lot of football. And I tend to my family. I have two children aged 10 and 16 who keep me very busy.

Dir. Paolo Sorrentino on the set of 'The Great Beauty'

Do you find that the Italian character is theatrical?

In my hometown (Naples), the people are extraordinarily theatrical. Orson Welles himself, on seeing Neapolitan actor Eduardo de Felipo said that he was the greatest actor in the world.

Whatever you say about it, Italy has an extraordinary pool of actors of every sort. They are all very different, from many different backgrounds, but all with often under-exploited potential, all just waiting to find good characters.


Tony Servillo is also from Naples, like I am. He is an actor I can ask anything of, because he is capable of doing absolutely everything. I can now move forward with him with my eyes closed, not only as far as work goes, but also in terms of our friendship, a friendship which over time becomes more joyful, lighter yet deeper at the same time.

Tony Servillo is quoted as saying about Sorrentino:

We have something in common which we both cultivate, and that’s a taste for mystery. That has something to do with esteem, with a sense of irony and self-mockery, with certain similar sources of melancholy, and certain subjects or themes of reflection. These affinities are renewed each time we meet, as if it were the first time, without there being any need for a closer relationship between one film and the next. We meet and it’s as if we’ve never been apart. And that means there’s a deep friendship between us, and that’s what so great.

Thank you Paolo for this interview. I wish you all the luck in winning not only the Nomination but also the prize of the Academy Award.

I also want to draw the reader’s attention to the fabulous photography of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi and the music of Lele Marchitel, who juxtaposes original music with repertory music of sacred and profane, pop music reflecting the city itself and to the extraordinary pool of actors, Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte, Pamela Villoresi and Galatea Ranzi, Massimo de Francovich, Roberto Herlitzka and Isabella Ferrari.

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times called this visually spectacular film “an outlandishly entertaining hallucination”, and according to Variety’s Jay Weissberg it’s an “astonishing cinematic feast”.

Toni Servillo in "The Great Beauty."

This rapturous highlight of this year's Cannes Film Festival, where it played in Competition was acquired for U.S. by Janus Films who will release it theatrically in N.Y. on November 15, L.A. on November 22, expanding to other cities on November 29, with a home video release from the Criterion Collection.

“We were swept away by this gorgeous, moving film at Cannes”, said Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection and a partner in Janus Films. “Sorrentino is one of the most exciting directors working today, and Toni Servillo gives another majestic, multilayered performance.”

The deal to distribute Sorrentino’s film in the U.S. was struck with international distributor Pathé. “Janus has over the years become a valued partner in the promotion of Pathé’s heritage in the U.S. through its releases of our library titles, and we are, of course, thrilled to once again partner up with this company for the release of this film which represents the finest of Italian cinema today and at the same time pays a respectful homage to its nation’s cinematic past”, said Muriel Sauzay, EVP, International Sales. 

For more information on the film visit HERE

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) also screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and was recently award the European Film Academy award for its editing by Cristiano Travaglioli. Since its Cannes debut, it has sold to Australia - Palace Films , Austria - Filmladen , Benelux - Abc - Cinemien , Brazil - Mares Filmes Ltda. , Canada - Mongrel Media, Métropole Films Distribution , Czech Republic - Film Europe, Denmark - Camera Film A/S , Estonia -Must Käsi, France - Canal + , Germany - Dcm , Greece - Feelgood Entertainment, Hong Kong (China) - Edko Films Ltd , Israel - United King Films, Italy - Medusa Distribuzione, Norway - As Fidalgo Film Distribution , Portugal - Lusomundo, Russia - A-One Films , Slovak Republic - Film Europe (Sk) , Switzerland - Pathe Films Ag , United Kingdom - Curzon Film World

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