Ten years of The Great Beauty. It was 21 May 2013 when Paolo Sorrentino’s film starring Toni Servilloabout Rome’s glitterati was released in theatres. It would become a planetary success, consecrated the following year with the Oscar Ó for Best International Film.
Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is not revealed by Rome’s most iconic monuments, which are glimpsed in the background, but moves through ancient palaces, along historic alleyways and dallies in gardens. It is surprising by night, and at dawn, as Jep returns home on foot from yet another pointless social event. It is a beauty that contrasts with the vulgarity of the films’ characters who move through it like caricatures, never grasping its essence.
The film was shot in many iconic places, but our aim here is to focus on some of the most unusual and interesting whether due to a question of perspective, the scene taking place or the characters involved.
In one of the film’s most memorable sequences, the cynical and disillusioned Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) takes Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli) on an unusual night time tour. He is helped by his friend Stefano (Giorgio Pasotti), guardian of the keys to the most beautiful of Rome’s palaces. These include Palazzo Spada in the historic centre. Several scenes earlier, beautiful Ramona was compared to Raphael’s “La Fornarina” in Palazzo Barberini, here her utter naivety is revealed before the “forced prospective” created by Borromini in the 17th century in the private courtyard. The forced prospective is an optical illusion obtained by sloping the floor, lowering the ceiling and shortening the columns of gallery that appears to be 37m long but actually measures a little less than 8m. The statue positioned at the end, apparently life sized, is no taller than 60 cm.
Jep and Ramona’s night time tour takes them to the Aventine Hill where they cross through the doorway of the famous keyhole with the view of St. Peters’ cupola and enter one of the most mysterious places in Rome, the garden surrounding the Magistral Villa of the Order of Malta. Stefano turns the key in the lock (thanks to the magic of film, given that it would be impossible in real life to find a key that could fit the hole). The church was designed in the 18th century by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The place brings together three different States: while geographically located in Italy, it looks over land belonging to the extraterritorial Order of Malta while the visitor’s eye focuses on the Vatican, thanks to the view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Palazzo Taverna is located in piazza dell'Orologio, just behind corso Vittorio Emanuele II. A most melancholy scene is set here: the Colonna di Reggios, decadent aristocrats in decline, are returning from an event where they have been “hired” by Jep to impress his illustrious guests. Shrouded in an atmosphere of abandonment, the princess decides to stay up late to visit the museum that was once her home: crossing the salons of the noble apartment, a room with dozens of chairs piled up, she stands next to the cradle she used as a baby, while a recorded voice tells her story.
On the Janiculum Hill, protected by a courtyard that flanks the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, is Bramante’s Tempietto. A small 16th century circular building, it is surrounded by a raised Tuscan colonnade raised on three steps. The temple houses a statue of St. Peter, according to legend this is the site of his crucifixion. One of the many surreal scenes in the film was shot in this unusual place: a small girl hides from her worriedly searching mother in the frescoed basements. It is Jep who finds her while on one of his solitary walks.
The atrium of the Salone delle Fontane in the Roman neighbourhood of Eur became a luxury clothing store for the film, where Ramona goes to find a suitable outfit for Viola’s son’s funeral. Inside a building designed to reproduce the elements of Greek classicalism in Rationalist forms, the atrium is a cold utility room with white marble walls where Jep, seated on a sofa made from a block of marble, expounds his theory of how to behave at a funeral. Construction of the building was interrupted by WWII and completed in the 1950s to the original design.