Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Stars: Tony Servillo.
Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be The Place, etc) returns to his homeland for this visually stunning homage to the city of his birth and a eulogy to Rome’s former glory. The film explores universal themes of death, sex, love, loneliness, regrets and the past. Co-written by Umberto Contarello, The Great Beauty is certainly a visually beautiful and sumptuous looking film. It has been winning a swag of awards, including the recent Golden Globe, and heaps of praise from international critics, and is Italy’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. But I found it quite tedious and dull.
Jep Gambardella (played by Sorrentino regular, veteran stage and screen actor Toni Servillo) is a former journalist and writer who, forty years ago, wrote a hugely successful book called The Human Apparatus. Since then he has failed to deliver on his early promise, but has been more than comfortable living off his formidable reputation. He has also been easily seduced by the decadent lifestyle of those around him. He lives in a lavish apartment just across from the Colosseum, but its faded beauty and crumbling edifice somehow seems symbolic of Gambardella’s wasted life and unfulfilled promise.
Now 65, he is jaded and cynical and he looks back on his life, his past regrets and painful memories. Gambardella is the archetypal Sorrentino protagonist, a deeply flawed and self-absorbed character in conflict with his past. Servillo imbues him with a brittle quality and a cynical, world weary attitude.
Sorrentino’s film is certainly visually superb and gorgeous to look at, thanks to the beautiful cinematography of Luca Bigazzi, whose roaming camera and tracking shots make Rome itself a character in the film. The haunting soundtrack and musical choices from Lele Marchitelli enhances the opulent visuals. Sorrentino probes beneath the glittering surface of the city to find the vulgar behaviour, emotional emptiness and hedonistic excess of the citizens who over indulge in the good life without a thought to the consequences. Sorrentino’s vision of a superficial and decadent Rome has been compared to Fellini, and there are echoes of his 1960 classic La Dolce Vita throughout the film.
The Great Beauty offers a critique of Italy under Berlusconi – the excessive parties, the objectification of women and the reckless life style. The film unfolds as a series of vignettes, and there are plenty of bizarre, surreal scenes such as a performance artist who repeatedly runs into a brick wall, all in the name of art. The Great Beauty is a sensory overload of opulent visuals, imagery, and music, all combining to create a melancholy mood.
But the film itself is rather dull, pretentious, and almost plotless, and at 142 minutes its meandering pace seems far too long and overly self-indulgent. There are a couple of frenzied dance sequences that capture the giddy, hedonistic pleasures of Berlusconi’s Italy, but they go on far too long and eventually become tedious.