Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Genre: Drama/ Comedy/ World Cinema
Jep Gombardella (Toni Servillo) is a journalist who has lived amongst the wealthy residents of Rome all his life, living a decadent and materialist life. He once had ambitions of being a novelist and the one novel he wrote when younger is now a classic, but yet he has found it actually easier to not even try to write another. Just after turning 65 he learns the news of the death of a childhood sweetheart and suddenly feels the need to reassess his life. Suddenly he has a different view on his own lifestyle, all those around him and the city he has lived in all his life leading to him questioning everything that he has been happy to embrace all his life.
Of course the whole idea that those who are wealthy and live opulent and supposedly cultured lifestyles are in fact the most fake, deluded and shallow people in society is not exactly a new idea and frightening revelation. Yet Sorrentino’s beautiful film never attempts to be simply a patronising lecture about the over privileged and the true meaning of life, it is far, far more than that. This is quite possibly one of those films that will mean different things to different people, and perhaps most of all to Italians, but I found it to be an unforgettable and deeply affecting cinematic experience. This is a film that explores so many emotions and experiences, that even though many of us have not been able to live the lavish lifestyle of our protagonist, our own life experiences still feel deeply relevant to what unfolds within the narrative.
The long running time and an unconventional narrative structure will certainly not appeal to all and it is naturally very easy to label The Great Beauty as pretentious and words to that effect, and though it does require effort, that effort is deeply rewarded. We do sometimes have to fill in the gaps, but this film only feels the need to show us what is important. This is cinema for the senses, with the beautiful tracking shots, scenery and a choral based soundtrack providing an atmosphere that makes Rome very much a character of its own within the narrative. This is enforced by the fact that the subject of so many conversations is in fact Rome and the feelings and emotions this great city evoke to these characters, both positive and negative. I myself have never been to Rome, but the vivid dialogue and stunning cinematography demonstrate perfectly why this city has both consumed and liberated many of the characters that Pep meets during the film. Though of course Rome is a unique city, the feelings that these characters feel we could certainly apply to the individual places we all grew up in, I know I can.
At the centre of the narrative, as Pep Toni Servillo is a magnetic screen presence, capturing just through facial expressions and longing looks so many emotions, both positive and negative emotions that would have to be summed up with pages of dialogue. Though this film is not just about him as many of the characters he encounters get their own individual moments revealing that people of all backgrounds and personalities have their own demons, but also have things (sometimes very small and basic in context) that give them great joy. Though all these themes are nothing new, it is all examined with such rich and vivid emotion by Sorrentino, it is that what in my view makes The Great Beauty such a joy to both watch and experience. There are so many great individual moments that deserve to be seen again; indeed repeat viewings will offer something new every time.
Despite the apparent serious nature of the subject, The Great Beauty is a film with plenty of humour, particularly in the scathing remarks Pep gives to his ‘friends’ during conversations. Life is filled with humorous moments, and The Great Beauty certainly shows this.
The final third of The Great Beauty does at times feel like a different film as it introduces new characters and religion plays a more a pivotal role than before, this sudden change initially caught me off guard, but still had an extremely emotional payoff.
Yes perhaps some scenes go on for too long and feelings and themes are occasionally overstated, but otherwise this is invigorating cinema at its very finest.
Despite the potentially preachy tone of its story, The Great Beauty is a cinematic marvel that captures with extreme verve so many emotions. This is cinema of expression and emotion at its very finest that captures so much passion with every shot and line of dialogue, and it thoroughly deserves all its award nominations and wins.