Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review: The Great Beauty

Image courtesy of Janus Films.
Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" doesn't exactly favor style over substance - there's some deeper meaning to be found in the film, but its often exquisite style mostly overshadows it.

Much like the director's previous "Il Divo," I found myself captivated by certain sequences in the picture without fully embracing the whole endeavor. I'd recommend the film, but with the caveat that you might end up enjoying individual scenes in a film that does not completely add up in the end.

Obviously taking his cue from Fellini - from the raucous party scenes that recall "8 1/2" to the treatment of Rome's Glitterati in the vein of "La Dolce Vita," Sorrentino's latest follows the adventures of Jep Gambardella, a journalist who wrote one novelette, but never attempted a second due to his inability to find life's "great beauty."

Much of the film is spent as he recalls memories, wandering through his friends present and past, reminiscing on a former flame and visiting her husband, befriending a young stripper and, in one of the picture's more surreal passages, taking part in a dinner with a visiting 104-year-old nun and her entourage.

As I said, there are a number of sequences that Fellini might have concocted himself were he still alive and making films in the 21st century. An opening party sequence and Jep's dwarf boss are very obvious homages. The film is often funny. There's a scene during which Jep dresses down a pretentious fellow writer that comes close to even ranking with Woody Allen's stepping out of line to bemoan the pompous guy standing behind him while waiting for a film in "Annie Hall." During an interview in another scene, he has no qualms about giving his opinion to a performance artist on her "work."

But this is a film that you go to see for the the sum of its parts, rather than the whole. It's often ravishing to look at and the performances are colorful and memorable. I'm not sure the deeper ideas about life, death and creativity for which Sorrentino is reaching are explored enough to say that they are what "The Great Beauty" is necessarily about. But should you decide to see it, you'll likely find enough to keep you interested.

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