By Glenn Dunks
January 22, 2014
Italy is a nation at war with itself in The Great Beauty. This recent Academy Award nominee sees revered director Paolo Sorrentino strike a delicate balance between the old, nostalgically traditional way of life with the jolting energy of contemporary culture, as the two somewhat uncomfortably merge together. For example, within minutes of one another, the hushed melodies of a traditional choir make way for debaucherous dance beats of Bob Sinclar’s ‘Far L’amore’ in a party sequence that would make Baz Luhrmann blush.
Opening with a quote from Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, Sorrentino’s movie is an opulent and sumptuous examination of a fading lothario, Jep (Toni Servillo), as he begins to reminisce and reflect over his life following an extravagant 65th birthday party in his lavish Colosseum-adjacent apartment. As a once-promising novelist, Jep now writes critiques of bizarre performance art shows for a local magazine, navigates the ruins and cobble-stone streets of Rome, and attends endless soirees (including one for a visiting nun).
Inspiring obvious comparisons to the work of Federico Fellini, The Great Beauty is indeed both great and beautiful. Deliberately paced so as to evoke a sense of wide-eyed wonder, Sorrentino has made sure the photography and score – the latter particularly exhibiting stellar work from Lele Marchintelli – are never anything less than wondrous. If it’s too long, which it certainly is, then at least it’s never ugly.
Behind its beautiful images are concerns of death and loneliness. It is likely not untrue that older audiences will find something especially poignant in Jep’s attempt to discover ‘the great beauty’ of life, yet what’s most interesting about the picture is how vibrantly essential Sorrentino has made this man’s journey. Some may see The Great Beauty’s ambition as being overwrought, but as Jep moves from experience to experience throughout this particularly gorgeous interpretation of a modern day Rome, I found universal concerns. The title is about as spot on as you can get and this is ultimately a film that raises the search for beauty in this world to a stylish art.
The Great Beauty arrives in Australian cinemas January 23, 2014.