out of Five
Running time: 142
Stylishly directed and beautifully shot, The Great Beauty is an emotionally engaging and superbly acted Italian drama that plays like a modern day version of Fellini's La Dolce Vita.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty (or La Grande Bellezza, original title fans) is set in modern day Rome and stars Toni Servillo as ageing writer and general gadabout Jep Gambardella, who we first meet celebrating his 65th birthday with what Silvio Berlusconi would no doubt call a Bunga Bunga party, on the rooftop terrace of his luxurious apartment, overlooking the Coliseum.
When Jep is visited by the recently widowed husband of his childhood sweetheart, he discovers that she had always loved him, which sets him off on an emotion-fuelled tour of the city, visiting friends, colleagues, ex-lovers and new lovers in a succession of bars, parties and old haunts.
Toni Servillo (Sorrentino's regular leading man) is terrific as the world-weary-yet-still-twinkly-eyed Jep and there's colourful support from Giovanna Vignola (as Dadina, his editor, who happens to be a dwarf), Carlo Verdone (as Romano, a frustrated playwright friend who announces he's leaving the city) and Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona, a 42 year old stripper (and daughter of a nightclub-owning friend) who becomes one of Jep's many conquests. The film is also beautifully shot, with cinematographer Luca Bigazzi's gorgeous camerawork taking us on a mesmerising, dreamlike tour of the city and making strong use of the various locations.
From the beginning, The Great Beauty deliberately echoes Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to the point where the film could almost pass as a remake – there's even a scene involving the lead character, a glamorous blonde (Isabella Ferrari) and a fountain, although, wisely, Sorrentino chooses not to have her emulate Anita Ekberg's iconic dip in the Trevi fountain. Similarly, the script is both richly evocative and genuinely moving, exploring a number of powerfully resonant themes such as love, loss, death, boredom, art, religion and nostalgia.
In addition, The Great Beauty is shot through with moments of jet black humour
- such as Jep interviewing a pretentious woman (Anita Kravos as Talia Concept) whose performance art piece consists of her running, naked, headlong into a brick wall – and absurd touches like the cardinal who avoids all religious questions and only wants to talk about the best way to cook duck. There's also a superb score by Lele Marchitelli, heightened by some inspired soundtrack choices.
Sumptuously shot and superbly written, The Great Beauty is an evocative, emotionally engaging and frequently funny drama with a terrific central performance from Toni Servillo. Also, if you've never seen it, it's well worth watching Fellini's La Dolce Vita beforehand. Highly recommended.
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) (15)