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aka - Grande Bellezza , La
Italy 2013
Directed by
Paolo Sorrentino
142 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Great Beauty, The

Synopsis: 65 year old Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a well-to-do journalist and man-about-Rome contemplates his life and that of his high society friends.

Paolo Sorrentino’s updating of Fellini's La Dolce Vita is a work knowingly indebted to the master but also very much Sorrentino’s own creation.  Visually enthralling and ceaselessly inventive, it is one of the most compelling films of the year

La Grande Bellezza is a richly varied cinematic tapestry that morphs continuously from image to image, episode to episode with little more than its braod themes and the well-tailored, world-weary persona of Jep, charmingly played by Tony Servillo, to hold it together.  There is a core group of characters and a loosely connected narrative involving them but much of the film is given over to the love of purely cinematic imagery. Thus the film opens with a Japanese tourist fainting from the heat of a Roman summer as a female chorale group rehearse on the balcony of an ancient monument. Then it jumps, via a woman screaming directly into the camera, as we are thrown into the thumping modern bacchanale of Jep’s 65th birthday party. The combining of old and new, splendour and decay unfolds for the next 140 minutes with verve and style aplenty as Jep leads us on a meandering journey through Sorrentino’s Fellini-esque carnivale of the jaded, the desperate and the eccentric members of Rome's idle rich and their hangers-on.

As our tour guide Jep, who once wrote an acclaimed novel but now merely wanders from party to party and liaison to liaison affecting a pose of indifference, is a dry commentator on the lives of his friends and acquaintances, people who do nothing but try avoid the inevitable passing of time and the fading of their former glories, echos of which are all around them in the ruins of Rome itself. The peregrination on which he takes us is endlessly fascinating, whether as sheer spectacle or voyeuristic pleasure. There is a bizarre section towards the end involving a Mother Teresa-like figure that is obscure of meaning and thus feels a little drawn-out but overall La Grande Bellezza is cinematic illusionism at its finest. Fellini would approve.

FYI: Servillo had played a similar role in Sorrentino's 2004 film, The Consequences of Love




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