by George Wolf
Ambitious in scope and bursting with visual wonder in nearly every frame, the Oscar-nominated The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) is an Italian film that not only embraces Fellini comparisons, but revels in updating the “Fellini-esque” moniker with thoroughly modern sentiments.
Director/co-writer Paolo Sorrentino takes us into the upper crust of Rome society through the eyes of Jep Gambardella (the marvelous Toni Servillo), a writer, playboy and all-around rascal who for years has enjoyed living his longtime dream of being the one guest with enough social clout “to make the party a failure.”
Shortly after his 65th birthday bash, though, Jep is shaken by news regarding a friend from his past, and he begins to look beyond the superficial pleasures, searching for the simple, exquisite beauty he never stopped to appreciate.
Sorrentino displays a masterful ability to combine wry satire, silly comedy, and keen social commentary. Working with a loose, often surrealistic narrative and an unhurried pace, Sorrentino employs veteran cinematographer Luca Bigazzi to unveil countless scenes of beauty, brilliantly driving home the point that Jep merely has to open his eyes to find what he is seeking.
Awash in wealth and decadence but grounded in the simple joys of life, The Great Beauty is an endlessly fascinating ride that never fails to live up to the grandness of its title.