Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino (“This Must Be The Place”)
Written by: Paolo Sorrentino (“Il Divo: La spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti”)
In “The Great Beauty,” the Italian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (and current nominee), novelist turned journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) finds himself contemplating the high society life he has lived in search of deeper meaning. As such, he is awed by the beauty of the City of Rome as director Paolo Sorrentino (“This Must Be The Place”) captures the complexities and aura of this stunning Italian city. While the film is successful in showing the allure of Rome, many other aspects stand on shaky ground.
The structure of the film is all over the place. Parts of the film, especially in the birthday party sequence in the beginning, feel like a bass pounding, over-the-top music video. The party sequence also gets the narrative off to a slow start and it takes a good 15 minutes to even realize what is going on in the film. The film also contains many brief cutaway scenes that feel unrelated or randomly inserted.
There are a handful of truly interesting scenes, especially when Jep is able to use his intellect and wit to combat people. The dialogue, however, has a tendency to get philosophical, yet often stays hollow and vapid in the process. Much has been made about the visual appearance of cityscapes, art, and statues of the film. While it is certainly true that it is often a marvel to look at, Sorrentino relies heavily on camera movement for a large portion of the film. While in some scenes, the movements are unique and add a very stylish flare to the film, there is so much panning and turning, primarily in the beginning, that it becomes a crutch and wears out its welcome.
Though the purpose of the portrayal of the wealthy socialite lifestyle complete with lavish homes, butlers and exclusive access to non-public places after hours may be satirical, at times it truly feels like a glorification which in turn makes parts of the film unrelateable and offputting. Though there are definitely some great views in the backdrop of Rome, the story, screenplay, and flow of the film leave much to be desired proving that sometimes, beauty truly is skin deep.