In one scene of Sorentino’s La Grande Bellezza, Jep walks out on his terrace to find the saintly and ancient Sister Maria accompanied by a huge flock of flamingos. The image calls to mind the peacock in Fellini’s film Amarcord . In both scenes, the birds appear as a form of magical realism. The flamingos are migrating through Rome and the peacock has just escaped from the local baron’s estate and landed in the snowy town square of Rimini. But the juxtaposition of the gloriously colored birds in the austere landscape hint at a fertility and creativity just below the decadent surface of things. Sister Maria asks Jep: “Why did you never write another book?” and his response is: “I was looking for the great beauty but I didn’t find it.” The irony may be that the great beauty is right there in front of us but we are incapable of seeing it.
masterpiece. The Tiber River is contemplative, teeming with life and accompanied by the singing of birds, almost as a Buddhist meditation far from the forced gaiety of Jep’s parties. While both films critique a particular historical and cultural moment in Italian society, they differ in their style, protagonists and conclusions.