The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Directed By: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte, and Pamela Villoresi

It's been a week to remember.  On Wednesday, President Obama gave a potent speech advocating for the poor that might just indicate the direction for the rest of his second term.  On Thursday, we lost a giant of the twentieth century in former South African President Nelson Mandela, a fierce opponent of not just against apartheid but injustice of all kinds, especially poverty.  With the President's speech in the back of my mind and Mandela's passing on my heart, Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty is surprisingly the kind of movie I needed this weekend.  Though it depicts the superficialities of the high life, the most notable moment in the film is when 104 year-old nun Sister Maria refuses to take an interview with the lead character.  In this moment, she says that poverty is something that can't be discussed and that it must be lived in order to understand it.  It’s something that resonated with me more than anything else given the week’s events.  This scene serves as a charming reminder that actions speak louder than words and that it's time to really confront inequality issues here and abroad.  Let's get on with my thoughts on The Great Beauty though.

Jep Gambardello (Toni Servillo) is celebrating his 65th birthday.  After decades living in the Eternal City and dominating the party scene, Jep has realized something about himself.  He's gotten old and has failed to find the great beauty in Rome.  While most of his friends value sex more than anything else, Jep now prefers the smell of old people's houses.  As he spends his nights drinking with his friends and getting exclusive access to celebrities and landmarks around the city, he begins to wonder whether he's missing something in his life.  Once a writer who penned a popular novel, the king of the high life now spends his days working as a mediocre journalist.  As he continues his aimless search for fulfillment, he meets Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli), the daughter of an old friend.  He introduces Ramona to his world and gives her a view of Rome she's never seen, and she gives meaning to his life again.  Meanwhile, Jep learns that his first love Elisa has passed away and that she never stopped loving him even though he hasn't seen her in over 35 years.

The glitz, glamor, and stylistic flourishes of Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty have a purpose, and it's not to glorify the high life in the Eternal City.  It's to highlight the insignificance of it all and to unveil the shallow facade of this way of life.  It's to highlight the emptiness with which this lifestyle has left our main character Jep Gambardello, who is smoothly portrayed by Toni Servillo.  With its eccentric characters, lavish depictions of parties, and enchanting shots of Rome, The Great Beauty is the ultimate way to highlight that popularity and material wealth aren't everything in life.  In fact, they’re nothing.

Not surprisingly, The Great Beauty offers up some beautiful filmmaking (pun intended).  We get some stunning shots of Rome throughout the film.  Wide panoramic camera shots with golden yellow cinematography by day and sharp blue cinematography by night, Sorrentino show us the Eternal City in all its glory.  We also get some strong musical selections.  To get the party started and create the whirl of the high life, Sorrentino gives us some bass-pumping electronic jams.  To underscore Jep's more wistful, reflective moments, he gives us melodic, melancholic tunes.  Essentially, the beautiful visuals and audio of the film help Sorrentino to create this facade and to show its miserable underbelly in full clarity.

At the center of the film, we have a strong performance from Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardello.  While I must say that Servillo gives us a smooth, fresh dude who knows how to party, he gives us one tragically miserable character, and it's utterly beautiful.  Servillo gives us an elder who's still searching for meaning in his life but, at the same time, is tired of searching.  This is a nuanced performance in which Servillo brings to life an array of emotions.  Moreover, Servillo deftly portrays a wistful, regretful rascal who's forgotten his roots.

The Great Beauty is one of the best foreign films I've seen this year.  Simply put, movies don't get much better than this.  My only quip would be that this flick is just a little too long for my taste.  Paolo Sorrentino's latest gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.