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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.16.13] Italy comedy drama



I fell unabashedly in love with director Paolo Sorrentino's style after seeing his take on Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Il Divo was stylish, occasionally dark with a streak of comedy that came as a complete surprise (seriously, the cat scene is brilliant). I skipped over This Must Be the Place (the idea of spending any extended period of time with Sean Penn holds zero interest for me) so I was thrilled to finally see another Sorrentino offering, one that includes Toni Servillo (even though he turns up in nearly every Italian movie).

The Great Beauty stars Servillo as Jep Gambardella, an aging magazine writer, one time novelist and eternal party guy. He came to Rome in his youth in hopes of being popular enough to ruin all the parties. He succeeded and over the years has become an institution in a city full of them, a man whose name is known everywhere and whispered about by society folk. But Jep is bored. He's tired of the parties, tired of the women, tired of his job but not tired of the city that helped shape the man and for most of the movie's running time, Jep wonders said city, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of others, trying to recapture the essence of the city that fuelled his youth.


Jep's wonderings through Rome are a gorgeous mix of old and new, high class and low brow, which beautifully parallels Jep's life (in part due to his job and partly his voracious appetite for life) which is forever inhabited by old and young alike. The parties are youthful and electric but set on the foreground of an ancient city that feels as foreign as it does majestic. One of the things I love most about The Great Beauty is how Sorrentino captures Rome as both a lived in place, full of history and familiar one moment and the next as foreign and new with discoveries still to be made. This parallel is most notable as Jep takes his romantic interests on a tour of the city (with the help of a man with keys to all the best buildings). She marvels at the beauty with fresh eyes while he revels in the familiarity of it all. Jep seems energized at having shared his knowledge with someone else and there's a sense that the walk has rejuvenated him in spirit.

The Great Beauty is a mess, a beautiful mess but none the less, a mess. Sorrentino wonders from place to place, sometimes the scenes make sense but most of the time they don't. Characters weave in and out, sometimes taking centre stage though we have no idea who they are or what role they play in Jep's life. The constant is Jep and the city and the two are like lost lovers finding themselves thrown together and rekindling their affair after decades apart. Rome and Jep are forever entwined and I love this idea that the city is forever changing and that Jep, in the act of living and connecting with the changing city, is re-invigorated.

The Great Beauty might be a mess but it's a hugely enjoyable mess, filled to the brim with an energy and vitality, a joy for life that rarely finds its way onto the silver screen. More than that, Jep, no longer a young man, holds onto his youthful passion for life and searches for it when he feels it slipping away. He and his friends, young and old alike, drink, dance and fuck until the wee hours of the morning but where most directors capture these scenes with a pathetic eye, Sorrentino focuses on the joy of the moment. I love that Sorrentino gives us something great to look forward to, a future that isn't just getting old and frail and eventually dying but that includes fun, happiness and a bit of badly choreographed dancing.

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