Reflecting on “La grande bellezza”
“To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.” Céline, Journey to the End of the Night
When I wrote about this film for my Favorite Fifteen Films of 2013 post, I was brief and said the film could only be a film. This is part of why I loved it. The visuals, the sumptuousness, the pure cinema of it all.
But, really, the main reason I loved this film was how much I related to the main character Jep. Now, as many of you who follow me know, I’m quite often bored by woe-is-me stories of men. I am an advocate for women’s voices and feel they are underrepresented, misunderstood and often forgotten. So, I can see how saying I related to a story about a 65-year-old man’s existential life crisis could seem bizarre.
But I think some themes are so universal, or maybe so personal, they exist beyond gender specificity. That’s the case with Jep’s story, at least for me.
In the film, Jep wrote one powerful novel in his late-20s and then gave up on literary glory, settling for a cushy job writing cultural columns and hosting lavish parties. Jep is a bit of a hedonist, but at his core, he’s a man who values sensual experiences, be they visual, aural, literary, edible, sexual, etc – the beauty of living, if you will.
What the viewer discovers as the film – and Jep – unfolds himself, is that Jep is not suffering because he can’t find that mysterious great beauty (that’s love, folks) – but that he found it when he was young, lost it and has yet to come to terms with his inability to feel anything as deeply again.
I’ve talked briefly about myself on this site since its inception in 2009, which was a year of great changes for me. In the (nearly) five years since, I’ve gone through a lot of other changes – schooling, location, job, etc. But, like Jep, as hard as I try, there’s a moment in my life from 2008 that changed everything about me. A feeling once felt, but (so far) never again. Will I cling to it for another forty years like Jep? I don’t know. Will I ever let go of it for good? Probably not.