The trailer for director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film looks positively profound. Flashes of decadent parties, hints of complex characters, thought provoking flickers of dialogue; all in the context of the gutturally powerful splendour that is Rome. Unfortunately for filmgoers, the beauty of the city is the only part of the teaser that translates to the feature film.
65-year-old Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) knows everyone. One-time hit novelist, he now spends his days writing the occasional article for a high end magazine and his nights partying with the who’s who of Rome’s glitterati. However, soon after his birthday and the passing of his first love, Jep begins questioning his ebbing life and ultimately his own happiness.
This film takes Sorrentino back to his native Italy after previous feature, 2011’s This Must Be The Place (starring a gothed-up Sean Penn), saw his English language debut. The Great Beauty is also Italy’s submission in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Visually breathtaking, the striking evocations of Rome and immersive style are reminiscent of Fellini in their scope. Nonetheless the meandering nature of the already very loose storyline means there’s little left to hold the viewer’s attention for the 2 hour 20 minute running time. Sub-plots involving an aging stripper and a soon-to-be sainted nun hint that Jeb may make a real human connection. Ultimately though, nothing comes of these interactions and he continues his partying lifestyle none the richer for his experiences.
Rather than being an enlightening study on the way we derive meaning from our lives, this is a lethargic and unfocused effort that, like its protagonist, fails to live up to its potential.
La Grande Bellezza is now in cinemas nationwide.