The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to finding the beauty in one’s own existence. The production reunites the filmmaker with his frequent lead star (and muse) Toni Servillo in a character study. We’re presented a contemporary version of Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella. The aging bon vivant once wrote a masterpiece novel in his twenties. However he hasn’t written anything of note in the 40 years since. Now the well dressed playboy has retired to infrequently writing cultural columns, and is living the good life in an incredible apartment overlooking the Coliseum.

There is a euphoria to the party scenes that is captivating. Rome is a stunning backdrop——the cathedrals, the museums, the amphitheaters. I’d almost defy any filmmaker to make an ugly movie here. These stately monuments of the old world contrast with the vacuous people of the new world. Jep is cultured, intelligent and parties until dawn nearly every night with the country’s well-to-do. Their lives an intoxicating mix of celebration, superficiality and emptiness. We first meet Jep as he’s celebrating his 65th birthday. He experiences reality as an observer lamenting his current situation. He’s searching for that intangible revelation. The script contrasts Jep’s despondency with the enthusiastic zeal of party revelers. The opening soirée is a dazzling mélange of music and merriment. It presents an energy that is palpable.

There’s little substance, only style to this beautiful looking film. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not about narrative thrust, but more of a feeling, a vibe. The plot is just a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. He surrounds himself with various oddballs: a nun with two crooked teeth, a clever stripper, a self-described “dwarf”. We see a young girl unhappily creating avant-garde paintings by throwing herself at a canvas in front of an audience. Through wisecracks and cynical smirks, Jep breezes through life. “The best people in Rome are the tourists” he offers casually. You’re meant to hang on his every word, but he’s a bit self involved. Occasionally he says something great. He tells a pretentious performance artist exactly what he thinks of her work and it’s refreshingly pragmatic. Unfortunately his lamentations put him in a melancholy state. Of course he doesn’t have any real problems and that lack of conflict tugs at your brain throughout the 142 minutes. For the most part, The Great Beauty is more of an art house feast for the eyes than the mind.

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17 Responses to “The Great Beauty”

  1. I haven’t heard of this one, but between this and The Act of Killing, I can only say you’re making the right choice in seeing arthouse movies this time of year. The ads on TV are worse than last January: so unappealing, I can’t remember half the titles of what’s being advertised. Something about Hercules and another on Frankenstein, I think, but that’s the worst of it.

  2. Mark – we fully agree. Spectacularly beautiful visuals. And ?? We even quoted the same line about the ‘best people in Rome’.

    One of my readers commented – what is the film about? Is there a narrative arc? Why should I care about Jep? – and I didn’t have good answers for him….

    • I will have to check out your review. I have yet to read a lukewarm review (like mine) yet. Everyone is praising this as if director Paolo Sorrentino is the next Fellini.

  3. hmmm i can’t say i’m much of a fan of style over substance, but you really said some nice things about this one.

  4. I got lost in some of the vignettes, but the location, look and parties were beautiful. I’d like to go to a party in Rome. 3 stars.

  5. Nice review. I’ve been waiting to see this for quite a while. I’ve read plenty of comparisons to Fellini, so I’m excited to watch this.

  6. And again we agree. It is a sensory feast, but this film removes us from the characters and their emotions, a fact that is disappointing, given how well developed Jep is. Even our scores are similar (I gave this a C+).

    Great review, Mark!

    • Thanks! The Great Beauty received a lot of acclaim, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. I personally favored The Hunt amongst the nominees myself.

      • Me too. I haven’t seen The Missing Picture (hasn’t ever been available for me), but I think The Great Beauty easily the worst of the for nominees I saw (I have it a C+, slightly above average). It is very beautiful, but that isn’t the same as very good. Least not in my book.

  7. I saw this one a few days ago, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it quite a bit. Have you seen Fellini’s 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita? It reminded me of those two a lot. I was pleased.

    • Yes many reviewers were heralding director Paolo Sorrentino as the next Fellini at the time. Interested to see how his English-language follow-up does. It’s called Youth and stars Michael Caine.

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