So many films are desperate to express the same few messages, live each day as if it’s your last, do what you love, never let that one true love pass you by. However what happens when, like people living in the real world, our protagonist has not followed this advice. The film is an elegy for Jep’s (Tony Servillo) lost youth. Now 65 and alone in Rome he spends his days casually detached from the people he spends time with, even his lovers. The events around him do not make an impact as he impassively tears down his companions for lack of other ways to fill the time.
The direction seems to share this indifference, the cinematography brings everything down to the most normal common denominator. Beautiful, miraculous and surreal scenes are played off as entirely ordinary through the camera’s eye. This allows sequences that would normally be written off as dreams or delusions to blend into the background of the absurd city. A city where priests and strippers regularly find themselves in the same circles. Possibly the most surreal juxtaposition of purity and pleasure found anywhere in the world.
Servillo’s performance pulls no punches, he grieves almost incessantly for a life he never had. His austere but kindly face is able to express both interminable world-weariness and childish joy within seconds of each other. The “king of the nightlife” slowly leaves his own terrain, declaring that he’s too old to waste his time. In the end the film leaves a sad taste in the mouth. He has not found his lost love or resolved his loneliness. He has merely experienced a little bit more of the variety of life, beautifully expressed and understated. His narrative is ongoing, like everyone’s. Life does not come in perfectly framed, convenient two hour packages to hsare. It is a series of random events that come our way. What La Grande Belleza mourns is the randomness, the meaningless of it all, when such beauty is just another wave in a sea that no one will remember.