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By Jayne Waterford
Copyrighted © Jayne Waterford, 2014. Written 26th March 2014. Revised 31st March 2014. Revised 1st April 2014.
REVIEW: "THE GREAT BEAUTY" by Jayne Waterford

Paolo Sorrentino's "THE GREAT BEAUTY" (2013) is a portrait of a group of priviledged Romans always on the edge of dispair.

Our story centres on the life of Jep Gambardello (Toni Servillo), a man who wrote one book, "The Human Apparatus," and begins at a wild celebration of his 65th birthday.

The Prolgoue is text taken from "Journey to the End of the Light." It sets an attitude of existential ennui that exists amoungst these aged literati.

Jep lives a deep appreciation of the aesthetic of life. His surroundings merge into gorgeous tableaus and when he can't see one, his imagination provides it. A seaside resort scene on his ceiling above his bed for example. He lives in a kind of informed hyper-reality. Music and dancing sometimes slows but charmingly never drops key. And I think I saw a cameo of Frances de la Tour in the party crowd (Italian export, as Madame Olympe Maxime in Mike Newell's "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" (2005) and Martha in Allen and Albert Hughes' "BOOK OF ELI" (2010))

Jep pretends to us that all is pretense but as our story unfolds and he cries at a funeral of his friend's son, we see he feels deeply for the high-life people he has been enaging with since he was 26. A principessa graces a late-night tour of great art in Rome. A real Contessa Elisabetha (Sonia Gessner) visits her crib in a display case in a museum, floors above where she lives as a noble-for-hire, in a poignant moment on her way home. Jep's world is peopled with the bitter-sweet. Lorena, a vivacious and retired television hostess (Serena Grandi) chastised by the botox vendor for abandoning her journey, snorts so much coke in his kitchen that her nose springs a leek with blood as she is moved as two jet trails pass in the dawn sky.

Jep introduces himself in terms of sensiblity and writer. He eats dinner most evenings with his editor Dadina (Giovanna Vignola) a 60 year old dwarf who enjoys being tossed into the air at Jep's parties, across the road from the Colosseum, between major religious institutions. He is at the centre of Roman social life.

Everywhere he casts his gaze there is excess. Jep's life is beautiful and interesting but people die. In the end, after a seemingly unrelated encounter with a 104 year old Catholic Santa (Giusi Merli) who knows Jep's work and finally asks why he hadn't written

another book, he is a wash with sorrow and outlines the begining of his next novel. He has found the great beauty of life. He has found a personal humility and and it acknowledges that life is beautiful.

When I think of Sorrentino's previous work, "THIS MUST BE THE PLACE" (2011) what I see in common is a pace people pressume to reveal themselves in. For example, Cheyenne (Sean Penn)'s stylish incarnation and Jep's liesurely walk that has been past it all. Compare this to the pace at which the Cardinal Bellucci (Roberto Herlitzka), of poor roots, grasps at attention with boring recitations of recipes. Sean Penn's role Cheyenne, as the rock star who has stopped making music, would fit harmoniously here. He would get the eccentricity of Jep and of Jep's acquaintences and he wouldn't think it was eccentric in the least. For example, at one of Jep's evening salons (Ludovico Caldarera), Dadina's partner, a poet is present. He never speaks because he listens. His work may be laughable but this impresses. In this world people can realise themselves in line with their passions and thoughts on reality. It's a world where people do realise themselves.

Jep however is cursed with sensibilty and so he writes as a journalist for a well distributed cultural magazine denouncing fools and critiquing as he goes.

He writes articles on things. The protege child who cries throwing large cans of paint at a canvas that ends up covered higher than she could reach and in larger sweeps that her arms would allow. (It's a fake.) The performance artist who brains herself on a wall whilst naked on a runway in front of a crowd and looks like her nose has been broken several times. The woman who talks about living on vibrations but can't say what they are.

The uselessness of it all is an old chestnut that really belongs to the educated elite just before my time. It's a mood that is something like the sense of Francis Ford Coppola's "YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH" (2007). The hint of mysticism in the saint's breath shooing the flamingos from Jep's balcony and eats roots because they are important. It's a comportment that recalls the plastic bag swirling within frame in Sam Mendes' "AMERICAN BEAUTY" (1999) but requires knowledge. It all belongs to this dreamy, idealistic generation, one of Joseph Cambell and Bruce Chatwin and apparently the author of, "Journey to the End of the Light." It's an age that is caught in the exquisite pain of living. But without love it is poisonous.

Indeed what happened to the women who inhaled Jep's toxic fumes? What happens to people in face of

great authority and immense knowledge and ability that seems unmoved in their personal life? What happens to people who fall for genius and begin to reach out but he's vanished? They wilt.

Jep makes ammends but at first no one wants him to. Not really. People don't cope well when they are confronted with change. Then, this man who can make parties a failure, settles into being kind. Jep's new motto seems to be never confuse style with genius but be kind.

I enjoyed looking at this film. Very much. It is the city of Rome, replete with designer everything and framed in a way you want to remember. It was beautiful. Paolo Sorrentino's "THE GREAT BEAUTY" (2013) is a cinematic treat.


Copyrighted ©: Jayne Waterford, 2014.

Paolo Sorrentino's
Release Date 24th January 2014
Category Drama
Running Time 142 minutes (2 hours, 22 minutes)
Rating M
Origin Italy
Awards OFFICIAL SELECTION Cannes International Film Festival 2013, OPENING NIGHT GALA Italian Film Festival 2013
Director Paolo Sorrentino
Producers Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano
Stars Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Distributor Palace Films
Official Text "One of the most spectacular and talked-about films of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, "THE GREAT BEAUTY" is Paolo Sorrentino’s powerful and evocative tale of hedonism and lost love,
and a magnificent requiem for Rome – where life is a performance, and the city its stage.

65-year-old Jep Gambardella (the extraordinary Toni Servillo) is a jaded journalist and wealthy bon vivant whose early promise as a novelist has never been fulfilled, though his infamy remains. He lives alone in a luxurious apartment overlooking the Colosseum and is a regular of Rome’s party circuit for the elite, a never-ending nocturnal parade of decadence that rages through antique palaces, immense villas and opulent terraces around the Eternal City.

The blinding metropolis Jep strolls through seems to reflect the hollowness and futility of his actions and those of his friends, but his worldview begins to shift after a man arrives on his doorstep and informs him of the death of his first love. Both troubled and moved by the revelation, Jep is flooded with memories of the past and ponders the promise of what may remain….

Arguably one of the most striking evocations of a city ever filmed, "THE GREAT BEAUTY" is a vibrant and breathtaking cinematic feast for the senses that captures Rome in a style reminiscent (and in celebration) of the great Fellini – in all of its splendour and superficiality, magnificence and malevolence, artifice and significance." - Palace Films PR

Director Paolo Sorrentino & Toni Servillo & Sabrina Ferilli foto di Gianni Fiorito
Toni Servillo: foto di Gianni Fiorito
Giovanna Vignola: foto di Gianni Fiorito
Giorgio Pasotti: foto di Gianni Fiorito
Don't mistake Jep for an Arthur.
Toni Servillo: La grande bellezza foto di Gianni Fiorito
Sabrina Ferilli: La grande bellezza foto di Gianni Fiorito