The Great Beauty
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
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★★★★★ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful looking films of 2013. And one that proves that beauty does not only go skin deep, it goes a lot further if you allow it to.
Watching The Great Beauty was an overwhelming experience. It comes at you full force, bombarding you with sensory overloads, only to become silent and contemplative the next minute. It is whimsical, much like the city it so adores seems to be.
Amidst all this is our seemingly hautein tour guide, who is looking for something he cannot find. Pure, unfiltered beauty and a sense purpose. With misanthropic glee he dismantles fake people around him, all the while gradually realizing he is slowly losing grip of what keeps him real. He is a walking contradiction that is back lit by a host of bizarre characters and occurrences, a prisoner of everything he condemns yet can't seem to live without. Unlikable, charismatic, charming and haughty all at once, captured in an astonishing performance by Toni Servillo.
Director Sorrentino brilliantly alternates between carefully staged scenes and more authentic backdrops, again commenting on the almost schizophrenic nature of the haute-couture jet set and the real world they are supposed to inhabit. He also, and this is an unavoidable thing when depicting Rome, manages to incorporate the religious parties in this bizarre tableau. A cardinal obsessed with recipes, the constant presence of nuns and the introduction of a divine 104 year old Saint are all welcome additions to this surreal cascade comprising the small slice of life we get to see of Jep Gambardella.
And yet, underneath all this bombasity, lie extraordinary moments of contemplation, running through the film like a motif embodying Jep's, for lack of a better word, quest. The ten-week long kiss, the view over Rome at night, the ocean on the ceiling, the girl who doesn't want to paint, an unexpected death, all moments that make Jep peel away at the self imposed layers around him, only for him to discover that life, beauty is an illusion. A trick.
To me, the Great Beauty is a condemnation of pretense, a passionate depiction of a city (Woody Allen can learn a thing or two here), an ode to beauty in all its guises and a great, if not brilliant, addition to Italian cinema.
★★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
"This is my life...
And it's nothing."
Aptly titled, to say the least.
A critique of,
And an homage to,
To the present,
The best comparison that I can make is if Emmanuel Lubezki and Larry David decided to collaborate on a film together in Rome.
And the reason why this film works so well as both a comedy and also a poignant meditation on humanity is because of its perfect pacing; it is carefully constructed and meticulously organized through each scene.
The world is a gorgeous, ugly place.
"Beyond there is what lies beyond.
I don't deal with what lies beyond."
★★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
The Great Beauty is a gorgeous ode to the towering city of Rome, a love letter straight from the heart of Paolo Sorrentino, written through tears of joy that garnish the wet ink. The director composes a symphony of pure affection, full of memories that make and break a life lived in a city that continues to thrive on such gracious charm and illustrious history.
Life in Rome is seen through the eyes of writer Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) a one-off successful novelist who never fulfilled his potential, choosing instead to live a decadent lifestyle amongst the rich and famous, giving himself to a life of partying. Now at 65 he begins to see a different view from inside his circle of friends, all of them clinging onto a way of life that burns with an energy way beyond their ability to keep pace with it.
Jep is the only one among them willing to embrace the shallowness of where life has led them, the vapid contradictions that sustain it. Botox is delivered like a sermon by the cosmetic clergy, euro house pumps through the marble halls, art serving as a function of status rather than expression. That is not say that everything is taken too seriously either as Sorrentino keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek to poke fun wherever needed.
The death of Jep's very first lover, back when he was a naive 20-year old boy, refreshes his perspective on what he may have missed and has to look forward to. He learns of her love for him despite her marriage to another man, 30 years passing since their relationship had ended. It revitalises a passion to write again and his outward musings lead him toward an understanding of seeing his past and future through the grandeur of the city around him.
Toni Servillo is a captivating watch whose weary eyed confident demeanour wins you over into his warm company. As he travels around the city visiting old haunts and friends he is accompanied by Sorrentino's expert control of the lens sweeping through the architecture. Rome becomes a painting from a dream, sumptuously shot to match the directors romantic vision. An ethereal score of choral and string sections enchance the graceful elegance of a modern society built in and around its glorious past.
La Grande Bellezza is one of the years truly beautiful films. Sorrentino has been compared with Fellini before now and this is his very own La Dolce Vita but one made very much in his own identity. It is the type of film to send you online looking for the next non-return flight to the Eternal City, allured by its decadence.
★★★★½ review by Larry on Letterboxd
I'm not a misogynist, I'm a misanthrope.
Such is the case for an unfortunate tourist who, at the beginning of La Grande Bellezza, takes one sweeping look over the tops of Rome, only to keel over and die.
The shocking opener sets the tone for the rest of the grand, extravagant film, and this slight touch of absurdism squirts a little twist of Fellini on the tongue that hangs around for its two and a half hour runtime of debauchery, beauty, and immense human tragedy.
Le Grande Bellezza is as close as we are going to get to the masterpieces of old here in the year 2013/2014. I'm not under the impression that its an entirely perfect film, but its a film we rarely see the likes of today; it seems to have waltzed out of a time where great auteurs walked the earth. But the film has a lot to say (sometimes almost too much at once) about the modern state of Roman high life as a companion to the common theme shared by any aging man.
If you've ever lived in one place for an extended period of time you may find yourself often in a phase of remembrance. Remembering the way things once were. Remembering how everything used to be easier. How things used to be fun. Remembering the people. The women. Remembering the summers that lasted longer. The sights that used to be more beautiful. Is it the times changing, or the man? Its this phase that Le Grande Bellezza explores with rather extravagant depth through its main character Jep Gambardella.
Jep is a socialite who has spent most evenings of the past 35+ years in a drunken daze hopping from one exuberant part to the next. Him and his fellow writers, artists, directors, celebrities, politicians, and rich brats have been partying on the rooftops of Rome overlooking the poor denizens for years without altruism or a tinge of remorse. They have provided the city with most of its art, creative influx, and money while slowly destroying themselves from the inside out. Around his 65th birthday, Jep has a realization that maybe all of this has been for nothing. There is a brilliant party scene at the beginning where Jep wades through the center of a dance floor with a look of sadness pooling in his eyes. From his realizations at the beginning, Jep spends the rest of the film engaging in uninspired political conversations, walking the streets at night without even glancing at beautiful roman scenery, and running into people from his past that draw to the surface many feelings of unfulfillment. His friends and lovers have come and gone and in a scene where he looks at an art exhibit filled with pictures of a man life, he realizes his life too has gone by as fast as viewing a series of photographs. As Jep courts a young woman through the Roman high life to show her a life of his long past, he sees her admiration for beauty and is almost inspired. But his old loves, bad memories, and wasted years keep him grounded in a world that doesn't have much else to give him. La Grande Bellezza is cynical, strange, and often sad but its never not engaging or utterly beautiful.
The magical pairing of Tony Servillo and director Paolo Sorrentino is once again magical. Sorrentino has created a Cinemascape of beauty and memory. Servillo has created a character of considerable emotional wealth, good humor, and relatability. Together they make a fantastic film about life, love, and seeing beauty; its packed with great imagery and is a throwback to old Italian cinema with a modern twist. Its a damn near modern masterpiece and one of the best of 2013. I don't typically like, or agree with the Golden Globes, but I'm glad La Grande Bellezza got well deserved recognition.
Also I have this film to thank for giving me my favorite character of 2013.
★★★★★ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd
''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?''
I come to La Grande Bellezza with the misfortune of having seen none Paolo Sorrentino's work, nor Fellini's La Dolce Vita which many claim it to be an ode to (amongst other Fellini works), but this could also be a blessing, as I have nothing to compare it to.
Luca Bigazzi's floating camera takes us on a rapturous adventure through all the nooks and crannies of Rome, through opulent residences, architecture and monuments of a bygone era, yet for all the wondrous beauty on display, there is a darkness and an underbelly that the camera does not turn a blind eye to. We inhabit the world of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo in a perfectly measured performance), who as just arrived at the age of 65 and is only just now starting to contemplate and question the emptiness of his aristocratic existence. He parties all night with his equally disillusioned companions, sleeps all day whilst the maid cleans house and charms his way through life as we walks the streets of his beloved city. This is a character study in the purest form, of a man who has lived off the acclaim of a novella he wrote 40 odd years ago, and though he has never been motivated to write again (one needs to live a life of meaning to be inspired to write something of substance, to find 'The Great Beauty' as it's referred to), it has nevertheless elevated him into artistic and literary circles in which he is a demi-god of sorts. The journey examines lost love, absent spirituality, hedonistic and materialistic excess in a nihilistic existential haze.
Whilst Fellini and other Italian auteurs are name dropped as inspiration, it has difficult to avoid comparison the narrative and visual aesthetic of Malick, with the dancing and party sequences having an inescapable Luhrmann quality. The auditory experience is a perfect compliment to the gorgeous visuals in every way, sweeping you up in a sensory explosion of light and sound. The comedy is balanced finely against the dramatic heft, with wild characters like the self-deprecating dwarf or the 104 year old saint with only her two front teeth remaining as just a smidgeon of what's on offer. A poignant and powerful masterpiece that rivals any film I have seen in 2013, as well as a film I will not hesitate to return to and share with others.
“Travel is very useful and it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue. Our own journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength.
It goes from life to death. People, animals, cities, things, all are imagined. It’s a novel, simply a fictitious narrative.”
Journey to the End of the Night by Céline
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