The Great Beauty (2013): Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino's sumptuous cinematic feast starring Toni Servillo

A "La Dolce Vita" for the 21st century

By Martin Bradley

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 

The Great Beauty, "La grande bellezza", Movie Poster, Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
The Great Beauty (2013) By Paolo Sorrentino
IMDb Ratings: 7.7
GenreComedy | Drama
CastToni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Country: Italy | France
Language: Italian | Japanese | Spanish | Chinese
Runtime: 142 min

Summary: Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
Italian cinema is, at last, on a roll again. Perhaps not in the same way as when Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini and De Sica were batting masterpiece after masterpiece into the arena but maybe more prodigiously than at any time since the young Olmi and young Bertolucci were setting the screen alight. In recent years we have had Michelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte", Gianni De Gregorio's sublimely gentle comedies "Mid-August Lunch" and "The Salt of Life" and, perhaps best of all, the films of Paolo Sorrentino whose "The Consequences of Love", "The Family Friend" and "Il Divo" were highly original and sufficiently off-the-wall to invite comparisons with Fellini. His one venture into English-language cinema, "This Must be the Place", met with a largely hostile reception from critics who accused him of being self-indulgent but I found the film to be gorgeous and quirky and just what I would have expected from so idiosyncratic a talent. And now we have "The Great Beauty", a return to Italy and a return to, what his critics might see as, earlier form.

Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in The Great Beauty, Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in The Great Beauty
This film, too, has been compared to Fellini which is entirely appropriate as this is a "La Dolce Vita" for the 21st century. You can even imagine the film's central character, Jeb, as Marcello, older if hardly wiser and for Sorrentino nothing much has changed. But if this is Sorrentino in Fellini mode it's just as close to the beauty and spectacle of "Amarcord" or, more appropriately, "Juliet of the Spirits". Once again the lead is taken by Toni Servillo, who was Sorrentino's Andreotti in Il Divo, and once again he confirms his position as one of the cinema's finest actors, heading a truly superb ensemble cast.

ep Gambardella in The Great Beauty, drunk and sun-bathing, Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
A Still from Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty
As in "La Dolce Vita" there is no real 'story' but rather a series of episodes in the life of Jeb in the days following his 65th birthday, (his birthday party is the first of the film's many great sequences). If there is a theme it's Jeb's increasing disillusionment with the lifestyle he has associated himself with over the years, a lifestyle he is very reluctant to give up, no matter how pragmatically he views it. He is a man who has had many women but no real relationship to speak of, (the early love of his life married someone else). He meets the daughter of an old friend, a 42 year old stripper with a drug habit, and they strike up a relationship of sorts though when they go to bed together he is happy when they don't have sex. He gets sustenance from his friends although he can be cutting and abrasive in their presence. It seems as it is they, and not money or power, which keeps him going.

Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in The Great Beauty, on a romantic date with a beautiful girl, Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
A Still from Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty
This is a magnificent movie, the kind of film that you know is being composed, frame by gorgeous frame, by a master film-maker. It is a breathtaking melange of sound and images, of great performances and superlative dialogue that draws you in and holds you from its first shot to its last. Some directors open their films with great tracking shots but Sorrentino saves his to the end, up, over and under the bridges of the Tiber as the final credits roll. Don't leave the cinema to the very last second.

About Author - 
Martin Bradley, Guest Reviewer, A Potpourri of Vestiges

Martin Bradley is a film aficionado based out of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Martin fell in love with cinema as a 5-year-old when he was first taken to see THE WIZARD OF OZ in one of its many re-runs. While the sight of flying monkeys got him a bit jumpy, the experience nevertheless served to be an everlasting one. And, needless to say, he never looked back. Even after joining the Civil Service at the age of 21 he never let the movie buff in him drift away and kept the passion alive. For about a decade he wrote articles and reviews for City Lights magazine (a local arts magazine which is now defunct) while simultaneously reviewing films on BBC Radio Foyle. During this semi-professional stint he also got the opportunity to interview a wide array of people connected with the arts. These days he mainly expresses his opinion on cinema through channels like facebook and IMDb. Martin plans to get all his reviews published in form of a book once he retires from the Civil Service. Meanwhile, his love of cinema grows with each passing day. In fact, it would be safe to call Martin a walking talking film encyclopedia. On IMDb alone, Martin has written over 500 film reviews which can be read here

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  1. Martin, just saw the film yesterday and I concur with your views, especially the comparison with Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Great review.

  2. Jugu, glad you liked both the film and my review. It's still the best new film I've seen this year.

  3. Martin, I just finished watching The Great Beauty... I feel that the film is true to its title in every sense possible. Sorrentino is indeed a master filmmaker (I have also seen The Consequences of Love and This Must Be the Place) and the sublime manner in which he blends music and images makes him an equal of Fellini. And the comparison to La Dolce Vita is quite apposite.

    You brilliant review, unlike other reviews I have read of the movie, seem to have captured the movie in its essence... and I must congratulate you for the same. Tony Servillo is without doubt a great actor and, in my humble opinion, forms the greatest actor-director pair of our time with Sorrentino.

    Also, I would love to have your opinion on one thing. I felt that Sorrentino was deeply inspired by Kieslowski in the manner he chose to use music in the movie. What's your take on the same?

  4. The first movie was great, though i haven't read the book. Want to watch this one soon..

  5. I am absolutely certain that it wouldn't disappoint you!!! :-)

  6. I salivate at the prospect when I hear of a new Sorrentino. Each film is better than the last a puzzle, a view, a witty cutting script. Of course he draws on the masters (Fellini but Antonioni too) but is a brilliant and gigantic auteur in his own right. I really loved Beauty with its so many unanswered questions; the pelicans, the nun etc This Must be the Place was a real gem and boo to the critics who thought it self indulgent - all movies are. Thoughts on "Youth" Martin? Another monument - "Who is she?" "God" and "We all know you are left handed"


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