US Release Date: 11-15-2013
Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino
- Toni Servillo, as
- Jep Gambardella
- Carlo Verdone, as
- Sabrina Ferilli, as
- Carlo Buccirosso, as
- Lello Cava
- Iaia Forte, as
- Pamela Villoresi, as
- Galatea Ranzi, as
- Franco Graziosi, as
- Conte Colonna
- Giorgio Pasotti, as
- Massimo Popolizio, as
- Alfio Bracco
- Sonia Gessner, as
- Contessa Colonna
- Anna Della Rosa, as
- Ragazza esangue
- Luca Marinelli, as
- Serena Grandi, as
- Ivan Franek as
- Ron Sweet
Sabrina Ferilli, Toni Servillo and Giorgio Pasotti in The Great Beauty.
I knew nothing about this film before sitting down to watch it beyond the fact that many have tipped it to win this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar. Had I known going in that it was a tribute to, imitation, rip-off, of Fellini's films, I would have been better prepared and known what to expect. If you are a fan of Fellini, you will undoubtedly enjoy this film. Given that I hated La Dolce Vita, you can probably guess how I felt about this one.
There is no plot. It's simply a series of vignettes and brief scenes revolving around Jep Gambardella. When the film opens Jep is celebrating his 65th birthday. For decades he has been the king of Rome's social life. He's a journalist who once wrote a famous novel, but has never written a follow-up. Now as he approaches the final chapters in his own life he has begun to question the meaning of it all.
Since I have very little good to say about this movie, I will start with something positive. The film is beautifully shot and shows Rome to be a beautiful place. In many ways this is a visual love letter to the Eternal City. Jep wanders its streets, mostly at night and it is filmed often in a dreamlike manner. It makes Rome seem like an ideal place to visit.
In contrast to the beauty and timelessness of the city, the people are vapid and shallow, at least those in Jep's circle who are mainly rich artistes who seem to spend all of their time at parties, dancing and watching pretentious performance art.
Director Paolo Sorrentino is a very self-indulgent director. He seems to be in love with his own visuals and expects the audience to feel likewise. Most of the first fifteen minutes of the film are without dialogue and simply show people dancing and partying at Jep's birthday party. You might argue that it sets the mood and shows what kind of people Jep knows except that is evident within the first two minutes. And the entire film follows suit. Scene after scene runs on too long or is simply pointless to begin with. Sorrentino is in love with his own visions. Too bad they're not as interesting as he seems to think. Put them to music and chop them up into 3 minute segments and he could be a great music video director, but I sincerely hope I never have to watch another one of his films again.
Toni Servillo does a good job in the lead role despite taking a back seat to Sorrentino's "artistry". He manages to make Jep seem somewhat interesting and sympathetic despite having lead a shallow life of partying where he has gotten to know every artist and socialite in Rome. Throughout the film he spouts many philosophical lines, some interesting, some nonsense, but given that he's the only human element in a director's film, he's all we have to cling on to.
If you're a fan of Fellini or a film school student then I'm sure you will enjoy this movie much more than I did. I don't think it's possible for anyone to enjoy it less. To me it's simply 2 hours and 20 minutes that I'll never get back.
A mess or a thing of beauty. You decide.
Authors note, I watched this in Italian, without subtitles. I thought this would leave me at a great disadvantage as my knowledge of the Italian language is molto poco, but I think it may have worked better as it forced me to focus on the imagery, of which this film so thrives upon.
It is all a series of scenes covering many different themes. First we see death. A cannon is fired. A tourist has a heart attack. A man is visiting a memorial. Then we have life represented by the party. A woman screams with joy, a couple flirts. Everyone at the party is enjoying the music and the presence of someone else.
Here we meet Jep Gambardella, an old man who clearly stands out, as most of the guests are younger than him. We also meet a dwarf woman who is the only one appearing to not have fun.
We have religion in the form of all the girls dressed as little nuns. The one habit wearing nun climbing a fruit tree is a direct nod to Eve. Gambardella’s apartment is amazingly located between the catholic school and The Coliseum.
Many subjects are covered, from politics to physical beauty to death. A performance artist has the Soviet Union hammer and sickle shaved into her pubic hair. Gambardella visits a strip club and then an elegant Botox injection gathering. A nun is also present for the injection. In fact, Nuns have a constant presence in the film.
Images continue to attract our attention. The midget woman has a stuffed teddy bear in her office at least three times as tall as she. Gambardella walks by a fountain with a beautiful blonde, in a direct nod to La Dolce Vita.
With the language barrier, I am not exactly sure what the plot details of this film were. There are several long scenes of dialogue I was lost in. However, some symbolism and imagery is enough to explain things. In one scene a woman swims naked in an outdoor pool, then walks into her house where a man is swimming in their indoor pool. It is pretty clear that this couple is having issues.
The little girls temper tantrum painting best represents this film. People watch in silent awe as she screams and cries while throwing and smearing paint on a large canvas. She makes a complete mess mixing all the colors into a horrible brown. The scene changes and then comes back to her finished work, which is not at all the painting she started. Now it is colorful with brilliant movement. Some will watch this film and see a dreary mess while others will marvel at its beauty.
Some of the images on display here are quite interesting and powerful but as a piece of entertainment, I will sooner re-watch Man of Steel.
Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty.
I disagree completely with my brothers on this one. Scott, I don't think you were fair to this movie. Just because you were bored watching it that doesn't automatically make it a bad movie and it certainly is deserving of more than half a star. Yes Jep Gambardella has spent most of his adult life partying the night away but that fact alone hardly makes one shallow. On the contrary, he's a very intelligent, witty, sophisticated writer with a brilliant bullshit detector. The Great Beauty isn't pretentious. It is in fact making fun of pretentious people. Eric, you really need to watch this movie again with subtitles.
Take the performance artist with the hammer and sickle shaved into her dyed-red pubic hair. When Jep interviews her he brings her to tears because he refuses to humor her pretentious attitude. She gives some bullshit answer about how her art revolves around “vibrations”. Jep calls her out by repeatedly asking her what she means by vibrations. When she fails to give him a satisfactory answer he says, “So I'll write that she lives by vibrations but she doesn't know what they are.” Later he tells off another obnoxiously pretentious character at a party. Jep is not someone you want to trade barbs with.
Toni Servillo is great in the role. We first see him dancing at his 65th birthday party. He has a silly grin on his face while he smokes (see photo), drinks and dances the night away. The beat to this song is quite catchy and I really enjoyed this musical interlude watching the various guests interact. Later on, after having sex with a woman he just met, she asks if he wants to see some photos of her naked. He replies, “Of course.” but after she leaves the room to get her computer he quickly exits, saying to the camera, “The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 is that I can't waste any more time doing things I don't want to do.”
The Great Beauty pays homage to many classic foreign films. La Dolce Vita is the most obvious one but the list also includes Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City and Michelangelo Antonioni's La notte, among others. The director's love for Rome is clear in every frame. In some ways The Great Beauty is reminiscent of Woody Allen's cinematic love letters to New York City. Friendship also plays an important role in the movie as Jep repeatedly mentions that he knows absolutely everyone. But only a few people are his true friends. And perhaps his greatest relationship of all has been with Rome itself.
Paolo Sorrentino has constructed a beautiful, dark, cynical, funny, moving film with a compelling central character. His search for the great beauty has led to a life of debauchery but Jep Gambardella is essentially a kind man. As he tells the woman who is insulting all of his friends, “We're all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little... Don't you agree?”
The Great Beauty does run long and it lacks a traditional plot structure. But it features interesting characters exchanging witty, intelligent dialogue. Visually it's a feast for the eyes. I also found it to be quite humorous in places. The Mother Teresa-like nun is funny in an odd way. She is also one of the few characters in the film with integrity. The theme of this film is the idea of facing the approaching end of one's life. Jep Gambardella has reached the age where you look back and take stock of your life while deciding how to spend your few remaining years. The Great Beauty is a breathtaking cinematic ode to Rome and in particular to one man who calls it home.
Photos © Copyright Janus Films (2013)