Urban Cinefile
"If you play the cello, you can always practice at home. But if you are an actor, you have to practice in front of people"  -Al Pacino
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of Rome's absurd, exquisite beauty.

Review by Louise Keller:
Like life itself, The Great Beauty at times feels like a tedious experience, juxtaposed by the stimulating and the unexpected in a visually diverse palette of the beautiful, the bizarre and the incongruous. Paolo Sorrentino's film uncovers both the superficial and the profound in this exploration of life, death and the inspirations that keep things interesting. There is a constant sense of motion as we view life through the eyes of Sorrentino's central character Jep Gambardella (enigmatically played by Toni Servillo), who is searching for the meaning of life.

The colourful explosion of life's hungers is pitted against the opposing disdain - triggered by Jep's 65th birthday and a personal revelation. I found the experience tedious, astonishing, frustrating, spectacular, pretentious and wonderful; the film's splendid Rome backdrop with its historic architecture, religious presence, fountains, cobbled streets and colourful mix of inhabitants being its most satisfying element.

Be prepared for imagery with a varied menu. There is a monastery choir, a man gifted with the keys to Rome's most beautiful buildings, a funky nightclub, prostitutes on the beat, an Asian tourist, an energetic dance class, a dwarf who sees life from a child's view, a man who listens but never talks, a toothless centenarian saint whose diet comprises roots only, a priest who used to be an exorcist. A screaming child creates giant artworks by throwing cans of paint at a canvas; a naked woman with dyed-red pubic hair and scarf covering her face head butts a stone wall before a captive audience; a giraffe disappears as part of a magic trick.

What does it all mean? Is life a giant illusion? And how does it fit together? Sorrentino's work is like a gigantic, obtuse jigsaw that leaves traces, textures and impressions of the human condition. Inevitable comparisons will be made with Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960). Jep's journey is long and far-reaching as he recognises and discarding the insignificant as well as discovering unexpected pleasures. And what of the girl on the island with whom he shared his first sexual encounter, aged 18? What has stopped him from writing more than that one successful novel from his youth?

Don't rush away before the closing credits. This is when some of Luca Bigazzi's glorious cinematography is at its intoxicating best as we navigate under the Tiber's arched bridges, discovering something new and unexpected around every bend. This is a meditative sequence, the light glistening on the water and composer Lele Marchitelli's haunting theme with its repetitive three-tone variation expanding to fill the entire octave - a musical metaphor for our wish to squeeze every little drop out of life as we know it.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's not often that we feel ravaged by a film, but The Great Beauty is a ravager, a spectacular odyssey of emotion and intellect and sensuality through the rich, contradictory and self indulgent world of The Eternal City. Paolo Sorrentino explores the ironies and juices of a Rome that is both the base for Christianity and the home for base human behaviour. Sinners and saints rub shoulders (and much else) as we follow 65 year old Jep Gambradella - Tony Servillo in sensational form - through a series of parties and meetings and flirtations and literary denunciations as he tries to figure out what it all means. He's old enough to want an answer.

Is life just blah, blah, blah? Just a trick, like the giraffe his magician friend makes vanish? He's a writer, he has to know ...

Jep knows everyone and his one published novel has even been read by Sister Maria, the shrunken, wrinkled, almost toothless 104 year old nun who is certain to be canonised, if not by the current pope then the next, the Cardinal who dines with them all, spouting his recipes for Ligurian rabbit stew and much else.

The authenticity of all the performances is riveting; the humanity of the characters is never in question, even if they are outside our personal terms of reference. They range from kiddies to young Romans to sophisticated elders and conflicted oldies like Jep. The music is extraordinary; eclectic and surprising but always inventive, exciting or hauntingly apt.

The amazing thing about The Great Beauty is that it is largely incoherent yet somehow amazingly cogent and cohesive in the end. The juxtapositions of scenes are often surreal in their effect, the visual dynamics and adventures propelling our senses to surprising new settings. The other great thing about The Great Beauty is the sense of humour, from the satirical to the whimsical, that permeates so much of the film in surprising flashes.

For those whose cinematic language skills were acquired solely through mainstream films will find it confounding. But the less resistance offered the better, as Sorrentino uses the screen's visceral tools to get inside our hearts and minds. The visual textures range from sensual nudity to raunchy sexiness, from architectural grace and grandeur to hypocritical pettiness, from intense conversations to simple remarks.

For those with cinematic memories, the film is at various times reminiscent of great and different filmmakers including Federico Fellini and David Lynch, even a touch of Woody Allen - all at their best, with Sorrentino speeding past those references to make his own statements, both visually and thematically.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

(Italy, 2013)

CAST: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte, Pamela Villoresi, Galatea Ranzi

PRODUCER: Francesca Cima, Nicola Guiliano

DIRECTOR: Paolo Sorrentino

SCRIPT: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello


EDITOR: Cristiano Travaglioli

MUSIC: Lele Marchitelli


RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 23, 2014

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020