The Great Beauty

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on February 27, 2014

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Dear Alessandro Brambilla
Steadicam Operator

Dear Alessandro,

You didn't waste any time before showing off, did you? Your smooth, floating camera carries us straight into the heart of Rome, the once-great city so central to The Great Beauty.

Like a ghost, we float through beautiful ruins, parks, and palaces. You glide past the sculpted busts of great men as sculpted, busty women smoke cigarettes beside them. Tourists and overweight locals take pictures and carelessly wash themselves in majestic fountains. Over and around the water we go, to a chorus of women singing a funereal hymn. And then smash cut to a party. The wild, decadent (and apparently pretty typical) party that changes everything for our hero Jep.

In the same way your shake-resistant rig keeps the action perfectly framed, Jep's 65th birthday party allows him to finally see his life clearly. The excitement and debauchery that drew him to the city as a young man is still there, but it no longer resonates with him. Call it a three-quarter-life crisis. You follow Jep on a conga line as he takes it all in, but there's a hint of melancholy on actor Toni Servillo's face.

We quickly learn why through reflective voiceovers and dinner parties with his pompous friends. It seemed at times like I was watching a Denys Arcand film made by Baz Luhrman. But the story, and your busy camera-work, eventually slows down and takes its time--much like Jep and other men his age.

The film is obsessed with aging. Botox parties are apparently de rigeur (when in Rome, right?). Characters admire millionaire child artists and begrudge their failing bodies. The city itself is described as "dying, distracting, and disappointing"--and to hammer that point home, Alessandro, you linger on the countless monuments of ancient culture. Even the half-sunk Costa Concordia cruise ship, seen briefly, serves to support that argument.

Though all of your shots are carefully composed, it takes a while before we're really get a clear glimpse into Jep's true headspace. His new relationship with an aging stripper (of course) gives him the opportunity to explicate some of his life lessons. This includes such gems as: remembering that every funeral you attend is time spent on a stage, which requires rehearsed lines and behaviour, such as never "stealing the show" from the family by crying. When Jep does break down at a friend's passing, we understand that he's also breaking away from the rigid self-imposed rules of class. Your camera, thankfully, doesn't stray; director Paolo Sorrentino is not interested in ever losing his beautiful imagery the same way Jep loses his beautiful youth.

More power to you. Not everything should have to crumble, right?

Holding steady,


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