Paolo Sorrentino takes us through a whirlwind vision of the Roman high life
Director: Paolo Sorrentino. 142 mins.
Amidst his coked up 65th birthday party, Jep Gambardella tells the camera: ‘To this question, as kids, my friends always gave the same answer: “Pussy”. Whereas I answered: “The smell of old people’s houses”. The question was “what do you really like the most in life?” I was destined for sensibility. I was destined to become a writer. I was destined to be Jep Gambardella.’ And hence forth protagonist Jep Gambardella (played by Tony Servillo), celebrity journalist and king of Rome’s high society circuit, leads us through the renowned Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s Felliniesque, whirlwind vision of the Roman high life that is a by turns beautifully subtle and witheringly grotesque. Having won awards for best director, best actor, best supporting actor and actress, best cinematography, best editing, best sound, and nominated for numerous others including the Palm d’Or and an Academy Award, Sorrentino tells his story with technical precision and uncompromising attention to detail.
The narrative meanders through Jep’s encounters during a period of heightened reflection triggered by the news his first love’s death. The plot glides from one bizarre encounter to the next- a lone Midget all in blue wakes up at Jep’s nearly deserted roof party and turns out to be his boss, Talia Concept (Anita Kravos) the performance artist runs head-first into a wall, naked save a veil on her head and her communist sickle shaved pubic hair. While on paper, Sorrentino’s bizarre vignettes (or are they parables?) might sound a little far fetched, with the guidance of Jep they transform on-screen into a plot of tightly woven themes. Complicit with the raucous Roman world, but a voyeur by vocation, Jep’s bold and lucid manner agitates and interrogates the absurdities that befall us. The presence and authenticity of religion, politics and art in modern western society are brilliantly examined.
With a wry smile never far from his lips, Toni Servillo expertly handles the character of Jep-perfectly embodying a sinking sense of squandered time and doomed frivolousness. One cannot help but be drawn into the combined forces of Servillo and Sorrentino’s attack modern living, carried out with an abounding playfulness that stays thoroughly clear of didacticism. This is The Great Beauty’s magic.
My aunt’s response to Sorrentino’s film is that “visually it is a masterpiece, but at the end of the day it’s three hours spent watching rich people disport themselves.” In a sense she is right, but I think that she missed the point. In the excessive characters and their occupations are caricatures of situations and people who are in fact intimately familiar. The narrative darts and ducks around them to uncover that niggling truth that confronts even those who have it all: ‘we are all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little…‘
The Great Beauty is the best film that I have seen this year.