THE GREAT BEAUTY
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Screenwriters: Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello
Runtime: 142 mins.
Australian release date: 23 January 2014
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Sydney, on 27 November 2013
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is an important, reflective film and a great homage to the ‘eternal city,’ Rome. It’s also stunningly beautiful and a lot of fun in a Fellini-esque kind of way, deliberately referencing Roma and La Dolce Vita while never quoting from them directly. Its director and co-writer, Paolo Sorrentino, admits that, “I can’t deny that those films are indelibly stamped on me and may have guided my film. I just hope they guided me in the right direction.” He needn’t have worried - the result is almost as good as anything the maestro would have produced and a deserving nominee for the Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film.
Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is an aging journalist and author, resting on the laurels of the success of his first and only novel, The Human Apparatus, and content to bask in the affections of his friends and acquaintances. Seemingly utterly dissolute, his chief desire is to host and attend glamorous parties with the beautiful people of Rome, but his viewpoint is becoming increasingly cynical as he begins to recognise the inexorable effects of aging. As his disenchantment grows, he toys with the idea of writing another novel but this leads him to look back at his life and, in particular, his first great love, a memory that still haunts him. As Jep begins to question the desires that motivated him (he wanted to be the king of Rome’s nightlife, to be able to make or break parties by his mere presence), his ennui increases and he feels increasingly empty as he searches for answers from ‘the beautiful people’ who are his friends. But, in true Italian style, the show must go on, keeping up the tradition of the bella figura - appearances are everything in Jep’s world.
And what magnificent appearances they are. Jep lives in a vast roof-top apartment surrounded by an immense terrace opposite the Colosseum, while the parties he attends are held in the most beautiful palazzi and villas in Rome’s historical centre. A number of the key crew members have worked with Sorrentino on his previous films and are integral to The Great Beauty’s, well…, great beauty: Stefania Cella’s production design is opulent and striking, as it must be in order for us to appreciate the decadence and wealth that make up Jep’s demi-monde; Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography positively sparkles as his camera passes its adoring eye over the spectacular architecture of the ancient city; and Cristiano Travaglioli’s edit adds coherence and meaning, allowing Rome to become another actor in the script. The film is a feast for the eyes and is worth seeing for this reason alone.
Toni Servillo is extraordinary as the jaded author and brings to the role an underlying awareness that, despite its beauty and despite what we may think when we’re young, life is fleeting. He is as you would imagine Marcello Mastroianni’s character in La Dolce Vita to be as a mature man - still hungering for the delights of the flesh but recognising that they are increasingly difficult to find. The Great Beauty is one of the best films you will see this year, a thoughtful, provocative film for adults and you don’t get many opportunities to see one of those these days. If you love cinema you won’t want to miss this great movie.