The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Though Dadina is a little person and a cultural journal editor with blue hair, she’s hardly the most colorful character in The Great Beauty. That dubious distinction rightly belongs to the performance artist she assigns her protagonist friend Jeb to write about, who headbutts an ancient wall while nude in her performances. Jeb presses Talia Concept to explain her art, but when she can’t she becomes irate and demands “a journalist of greater stature”. Jeb advises her to use caution when using that phrase around his editor, because “she’s a dwarf!” Later he regrets using that exchange in his article and asks Dadina if he should have left it out. “But that was the best part!” she replies.

A friend comes to beg Jeb for assistance in obtaining help for her mentally ill son, but he doesn’t know what to do beyond giving her the phone number of a psychiatrist. The son makes a few dramatic entrances, most notably with his face painted entirely red, making the non-religious Jeb wonder about the influence of Satan.

Jeb has a brief romance with a stripper named Ramona, who has an unexplained invisible disability or illness. Though she looks healthy, she needs to spend a lot of time unmoving, and tells Jeb that she spends all of her earnings trying to cure herself. It’s likely that few people take her seriously about it–even her father thinks she’s probably just a junkie–but she dies suddenly and without explanation.

The final depiction of disability is due to advanced age, in the form of a “bona fide saint”. Sister Maria is so decrepit that Jeb worries every breath will be her last, and she only stirs to talk if it’s to utter something holy. She holds an audience with the faithful in which she seems to have symptoms of Parkinson’s, tapping one foot until the shoe comes off and unnerving the dignitaries assembled to see her. She further upsets her caregivers by insisting on dragging herself up several flights of stairs to worship an ancient painting of Christ.

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