By Roque Rodriguez
The Great Beauty is filled with beautiful people doing beautiful things in a beautiful city. At no point does the film let excess get in the way of telling its compelling story, making sure the emotions and yearnings of the characters are not overshadowed by the superficial extravagance. The film will screen for one night only on Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at the Tower Theatre (815 E. Olive Ave.) presented by Fresno Filmworks.
Early in the film, the main character tells us his reason for existing: “I didn’t want to simply be a socialite, I wanted to become the king of socialites. And I succeeded. I didn’t just want to attend parties, I wanted the power to make them fail.”
Jep Gambardella (played wonderfully by Toni Servillo, who could easily pass as Vice President Joe Biden’s doppelganger) is a blocked writer living it up in Rome among the rich and elite as a journalist. Since publishing a successful novel years earlier, he’s been living among the upper crust and spending his evenings partying away. One day, a stranger visits and presents Jep with information regarding a past love that embarks Jep on an introspective journey.
Jep is surrounded with some interesting “friends” as he goes through his self-discovery, giving him an opportunity to delve into various aspects of what makes them, and by proxy, himself, tick. Watching him swim the waters of the inner circle gives the audience a glimpse at the cracks that exist underneath the shiny gloss of dollar bills and apartments overlooking the Colosseum.
While following Jep on his soul searching, the director takes shots at the sad states of both the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church. The social criticism is delivered by some interesting character portrayals that seem a little too cartoonish at times, but that never gets too distracting.
Director Paolo Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi do a wonderful job photographing Rome, making sure to fill every frame with spectacular images that beautifully capture the essence of the ancient city. If you’ve ever considered visiting Italy, seeing this film might well cause you to book a flight.
The lighting and camera movements help give a certain surreal flavor to the film, echoing some techniques more recently used by filmmakers like Gaspar Noé. But without a doubt, no filmmaker influenced this film more that Federico Fellini. And the comparisons between Sorrentino’s film and the grandmaster’s La Dolce Vita have been well documented.
The Great Beauty was a big winner at the European Film Awards in early December, where it took home awards for best film, director, actor for Servillo and editor. The film is also Italy’s official entry for Best Foreign Film in the Oscar race this year. It should put up a good fight in the category.
Between Sorrentino’s masterful direction, Servillo’s wonderful acting chops and the great beauty that is Rome, The Great Beauty might be a personal journey that will stay with you long after leaving the movie theater.
Roque Rodriguez is a local graphic artist, filmmaker and film lover. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.