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Thursday, January 2, 2014

THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA) Review

Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in THE GREAT BEAUTY
Courtesy of Janus Films

THE GREAT BEAUTY 
(LA GRANDE BELLEZZA)
2013, 141 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler


I just named The Great Beauty the best film of 2013 and for good reason.  Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty is a hypnotic trip through the high life of contemporary Rome, told through the eyes of jaded journalist Jep Gambardella, played to perfection by Toni Servillo (Il Divo).  The film glides along at its own pace, playing like a mix of an opera and techno dance song.

The film tells the story of Jep Garmbardella, a journalist who becomes fed up with the high life.  While certainly Felliniesque and an homage to La Dolce Vita, this film provides sharply funny commentary on the life of the rich in Rome. 

With The Great Beauty, Sorrentino goes for broke.  The camera is constantly moving all around, the images are so full and lush that they threaten to burst the frame.  Sorrentino fills the film with rich characters, all with beautiful or hideous faces, but no face compares to Toni Servillo's.  As Jep Gambardella, Servillo looks like a graphic novel creation, his huge smile and slicked-back bits of hair on the back of his head making him look alternately like an everyman and a king.  Gambardella is a creation for the ages.  Through Toni Servillo's penetrating and multi-layered performance, we get a glimpse into the crazy life he's led over the past 65 years and a look into why the high life isn't what it once was for him.

Jep Gambardella is, in a way, like Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street.  Jep, like Jordan, has become a king of sorts and while looking for more, he has found nothing.  Unlike Belfort, though, Gambardella saw behind the fa├žade.  He decided to stop doing things that he doesn't want to do and as the movie goes on, he learns how to be a human again.  The high life had transformed him into a man so jaded that he stopped seeing the beauty in life and stopped being a normal human being.

The film's pace follows Jep's disenchantment.  The second scene of the film is a wild birthday party for Jep, music blaring, lights glaring.  The pace is quick but gradually, as Jep becomes more disenchanted, it slows (never too much) and the scenes become more dreamlike.

The Great Beauty is a film that manages something incredible - it says something old in a new way.  And, it is more than worth sitting through the 133 minutes (without credits) that this movie runs to see the fun that Sorrentino has with his material.  Every scene of this movie is dazzling and Sorrentino merges intellect and entertainment in every scene to create a film of immense richness.  And, the movie has a heart underneath all of the glamor and hyper-stylization.  I cared about Jep and was moved by the satisfying, profoundly beautiful ending.

Overall, The Great Beauty is a marvel, a shining example of the best that cinema has to offer.  This is the kind of movie that restores my faith in cinema and makes me see just what a versatile and magical medium it is.  Sorrentino has crafted a masterpiece, one which will likely endure for decades to come.

4/4

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