mon 27/05/2024

The Great Beauty | reviews, news & interviews

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

Movie magnificence from Paolo Sorrentino, starring Toni Servillo

'A man apart': Toni Servillo contemplates 'The Great Beauty'

Paolo Sorrentino's latest opens with a Japanese tourist keeling over at the mere sight of an ancient Roman vista: he takes a snap and wipes the sweat from his brow before his fatal fall to the floor. As the Small Faces sang in "Itchycoo Park", for this gentleman at least, "It's all too beautiful." The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is a love letter to Rome, in the vein of and as grandly ambitious as a Fellini, but don't be fooled by the title.

Sorrentino's sixth narrative feature isn't merely a celebration of the city's already much celebrated beauty. It follows a man in existential and spiritual crisis, an observer whose gaze is turned devastatingly inwards.

Regular Sorrentino collaborator Toni Servillo (Il Divo, The Consequences of Love) plays Jep Gambardella, a successful journalist and lothario whose novel The Human Apparatus - written 40 years' previously - is a widely regarded classic but was mysteriously never followed up. As The Great Beauty begins he's turning 65 and being thrown the party to end all parties: a rooftop blow-out, a roaring Gatsby-esque affair. There the gorgeous mingle with the grotesque, the grotesques largely being Jep's ageing hedonist friends - conflicted intellectuals who meet regularly on his terrace (à la Ettore Scola's 1980 ensemble drama La Terrazza), with its awesome Colosseum view, to drink, philosophise and snipe. Although they're shown as troubled, they're not exactly poor lambs and Sorrentino leaves us in no doubt that their lives are simultaneously rather fabulous.

The Great Beauty is episodic in structure, comprising a series of encounters, parties, sombre remembrances and surreal interludes: Jep meets an unbelievably elderly nun; he revels in the laughter of children watching a man reel in a pocket dog using an electric leash; he joins the queue at an exclusive Botox clinic; he watches as a distressed child artist performs for adults at a party; he meets and romances an ageing stripper, Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli, pictured above right) who harbours a sad secret; and to the delight of his editor Dadina (Giovanna Vignola) he picks apart the pretentions of artist Talia Concept (Anita Kravos) during an interview.

Despite its structure, Sorrentino's film feels far from fractured due to smooth, swooping camerawork and a gobsmackingly beautiful aesthetic (the cinematography comes courtesy of another Sorrentino regular, Luca Bigazzi). Consistency also comes from the presentation of a very privileged, personal view of the city - an elite, secret Rome. People who are unimportant to, or who go unnoticed by Jep are simply eliminated; so nights are for lovers (and, as the appearance of Fanny Ardant suggests, movie stars) and, with the exception of the doomed gentleman at the outset, gone are Rome's hoards of tourists. During one magical sequence a friend of Jep's takes us on a night tour of Rome's most beautiful buildings, facilitated by a case of keys which have been entrusted to him by elderly princesses.

The Great Beauty is full of incident and lightly worn contemplative agony, several characters die and death and romantic regret haunt Jep. Aesthetically it might rival even the compositions of the great Antonioni but perhaps most noticeably and refreshingly it's full of humour. Sorrentino's last picture This Must Be the Place was wonderfully funny despite its flaws and here he winningly combines the eccentricity and mischief of that film with a more coherently documented crisis. Throughout, the use of music is sublime - utterly stirring to the soul. From Lele Marchitelli's original score, to the Kronos Quartet's "The Beatitudes" (which punctuates the film beautifully) to the Euro-pop which accompanies the parties - it's all immaculately judged.

The Great Beauty is pure cinematic enchantment which wears its 142-minute runtime like a silk scarf. Sorrentino is a thrillingly ambitious, increasingly masterful filmmaker and remarkably he's still only 43. He's unafraid to make strange or soaring cinema, and this just may be his best yet.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for The Great Beauty

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter


Perhaps most noticeably and refreshingly it's full of humour


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Spot-on, Emma, with every point. Ravishing cinematography, excellent script, beautifully acted and very funny as you say. I wondered if twenty minutes might have been shorn, since I wasn't quite sure where we were heading three quarters of the way through, but that woud have been to lose more unforgettable images.

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