Last year I made one of my now rare visits to the cinema to see an Italian film entitled The Great Beauty. This film won an Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film, which is about the highest award it could achieve, given the academy regards any film not in ‘American English’ as foreign language.
In my usual superficial way of analysing a text, I had assumed that the Great Beauty referred to the bon vivant life of the main character, Jep. As he becomes older he appears to be seeing the things that are lacking from this life. He has no family and the people he sees as his friends are superficial. He lives in a splendid apartment with a spectacular view over the Colosseum. He gives extravagant parties, attended by the influential and beautiful and receives invitations to the places where one should be seen. Despite all of the, he spends a great deal of time alone, wandering the streets of Rome, thinking about his circumstances.
What I had failed to realise was that Jep’s life is really a metaphor for Rome which is the real Great Beauty. While watching the film, I was very aware of the setting but did not take into account that it was actually another character in the story. During his wandering, the observant viewer will see how this beauty has been marred by graffiti or simple neglect. Most of his shallow friends are completely unaware of the beauty that has been given into their care for posterity.
I am amazed that I totally missed the point, since I have been ranting in my previous travel journal about exactly this subject. My experience of the great cities of the world is not extensive but, of those that I have visited, Rome would have to be the most tagged. Structures that have existed for hundreds or even thousands of years have ugly coatings of garish, disfiguring spray paint and it just stays there from year to year. It took a book by Alberto Spadafora that I bought on my first day here to wipe the scales from m eyes.
Of course, the current generations are not the first to leave their marks on the structures of Roman cities. Some of what is known about the lives of the ancients has been deduced from the scratchings that they left on city walls. I discovered when reading the description of the statue in the Museo Capitalino, which features in the one of the many memorable scenes of the film and in the advertising, that it was once used by the people of Rome as a place to display their complaints.