The Great Beauty (Janus Films, NR)

Great-Beauty 75By the time of Jep’s revelation, I already didn’t care what happened, and it wasn’t enough to win me back over.

 

 

 

 

Great-Beauty 500

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is one of those directors who keeps getting better and better known in America with each new feature film he makes—but as he gets better known, his films seem to get worse. That is to say, my favorite film of his is the first one I saw (2004’s The Consequences of Love) and my least favorite is his new one, The Great Beauty. Nonetheless, The Great Beauty has been met with greater praise and a bigger audience than any of his previous features, where no one really seemed to see or like or care about The Consequences of Love. That type of artistic progression is a frustrating one.

Not that The Great Beauty is bad, exactly. The upside is that it reunites him with star Toni Servillo, with whom Sorrentino has made most of his films (including the above-mentioned Consequences, as well as 2008’s Oscar-nominated Il Divo). The downside is that both the press materials and many other reviewers have made reference to the concept that The Great Beauty is Sorrentino’s extended homage to Fellini, and I’ve never been a fan of Fellini’s, so that probably helps to explain my relative dislike for this film. And beyond that connection, The Great Beauty is just kind of a big, loud, anxious spectacle of a movie, like what you might expect if Baz Luhrman made a film set in Rome.

Servillo plays Jep Gambardella, who wrote one great novel decades prior to the events of the film, and has lately been resting on his laurels as a journalist and socialite. (Think of a lazier, ageing Truman Capote, and perhaps you’re on the right track.) The film at first feels like it’s going to be a near-plotless mess of imagery, until Jep finds out just after his 65th birthday that his first love has died. The film becomes somewhat more plot-oriented at this point, and it pulls its characters into stronger relief, as well, but at the time of this revelation (which doesn’t really come late in the film at all) I already didn’t care, and it wasn’t enough to win me back over.

Sorrentino is an auteur long-nurtured by the Cannes Film Festival; The Great Beauty is his fifth straight film to premiere there. He’s a talented and interesting filmmaker who’s willing to take chances, and I’ll happily seek out his next offering whenever the opportunity presents itself. As for now, I wouldn’t expect the audience of The Great Beauty to walk out wishing they hadn’t bothered seeing it, but if you’re unfamiliar with Sorrentino’s work, you’d be better off starting just about anywhere else. | Pete Timmermann

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