By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
The Great Beauty | Directed by Paolo Sorrentino | Not Rated
Despite the fact that the film played at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and TIFF, I only caught whiff of it when I noticed that it was placed on more than a couple top ten lists. Now, the film I never even heard of a couple weeks ago has now become posed to win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
Does the film leave up to the hype, though? While not without its hiccups along the way, the short and simple answer is: yes.
As he turns 65, journalist and one-time novelist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is finally starting to reevaluate his life. Having been the king of the nightlife in Rome for the past couple decades, Jep lives a very lavish life, but he doesn’t really have all that much to show for it. As friends begin to pass away and he begins to see the clock tick for himself, Jep tries to find what is the true value and beauty of life, and what it really means to have lived, laughed and loved.
There is no denying that The Great Beauty is, indeed, a beautiful film to look at. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi and Sorrentino are about to make some captivating images, and provide an illuminating look into Jep’s exquisite life. But what truly guides the film is its tender, but thoughtful story and Servillo’s nuanced performance.
As his love letter for Fellini, Sorrentino and co-writer Umberto Contrarello are able to provide an engaging, if a bit overlong, narrative that provides humorous and meditative looks into both the lives of everyday people and the lives of celebrities. Unlike, say, a recent Sofia Coppola movie, Sorrentino is able to bring life to the rather thin-spread lifestyle of a celebrity, using humor and color to bring out some integrity into their lives without becoming pompous or pretentious.
As noted before, The Great Beauty is a surprisingly funny movie. Thanks to its humor that is often dry and absurd in equal measure, Sorrentino is able to poke fun at everything from art to culture. Often, throughout the film, I was reminded of 2012’s Holy Motors similar blend of humor, but found that The Great Beauty was better able to avoid the former’s temptation to be weird just for the sake of weirdness. Despite the fact that, on the whole, Holy Motors is also a solid film.
Additionally, as the lead, Servillo is able to bring a lot of heart and depth without every growing flashy or showy in his portrayal of Jep. It’s his refined performance that helps guide the film through its occasionally derived sense of flash and glitz.
Often, in its efforts to find humor in the weirdness of celebrity and art culture, the film will sometimes get distracted from its overall story for the sake of a one-off joke. For example, while scenes making fun of child celebrities are amusing, to be sure, they don’t really add anything to the overall story.
While it is occasionally driven off its beating path, it is the film’s intelligence, humor and beauty that keeps it all together. Whether through its insights, or its inspired and offbeat sense of humor, or its simply gorgeous camera work, the whole film flows through with such grace that it is undeniably an engrossing experience, particularly on the big screen. Also, Cristiano Travaglioli’s masterful editing helps keep everything free-flowing and engaging.
It will not be for everyone, but those who are able to appreciate the film’s unique vision and thoughtful storyline will find a lot of love inside The Great Beauty. For there are few films from 2013 that left as much of an impression on me as this film.