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Rome's Oscar Triumph and the Way Cities Change (or Don't)

Director Paolo Sorrentino attends the 86th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood
Director Paolo Sorrentino attends the 86th annual Academy Awards in HollywoodPhotograph by Jason LaVeris/WireImage

In Rome, it was a point of civic pride when The Great Beauty won the Academy Award for best foreign language film, no doubt aided by the lush showcasing of the city’s gorgeous palazzos and entrancing light. On state-run radio, the win led the local news (followed by items on garbage dumps, arsenic in the water, and a factory closing). Italy’s celebration of its first Oscar since Life Is Beautiful in 1999 seemed to reflect hope of a turnaround after a decade lost to recession, or at least a sign Italy could still succeed at moviemaking.

To the film’s director, however, the point of The Great Beauty is more local. “It’s about the miseries, splendors, joys of a city,” Paolo Sorrentino told the Associated Press in January after winning the Golden Globe. His film captures the moment in which a writer, turning 65, realizes he’s frittered away his life doing nothing but party in a city that never changes. It raises questions about the nature of cities and the roles they play in shaping lives, fortunes, and happiness.