La Grande Bellezza or The Great Beauty (multilingual with English subtitles) may be a tad overloaded and pretentious to more than a few discerning arthouse cineastes, but it has a splendor especially from its widescreen lustrous visuals that works quite well off of the frivolity and decadence, even the decline, of the Eternal City.
Paolo Sorrentino obviously was influenced by the sumptuous imprints of Italian maestros like Federico Fellini and Antonioni and finds an evocative way of expressing genuine emotion through a celebrated novelist (back in his earlier days) and gossip columnist who's just turned 65 and questioning the importance of his existence.
Toni Servillo fits the bill with his sad eyes, thin lips and pronounced nose as cynically flippant, if slightly studied Jep Gambardella who moved to Rome forty years ago and has been a part of high society as the ornate opening indicates (peering down on the remains of the old Colosseum).
The ambitions and virtuosity related in the narrative by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello works off a long-ago sweetheart through her husband revealing how she felt about Jep as well as where the instructions of dwarf editor (a fine Giovanna Vignola) lead him in his reporting. He's led into the cleric world through a more down-to-earth cardinal interested in cooking (Roberto Herlitzka) and the candidly, pious Sister Maria (Sonia Gessner) who puts him on a track of awakening to a younger idealism. That's when he's not taken aback by a wealthy spiritual advisor and a nude, head-banging performance artist.
The range of Servillo (a favorite of Sorrentino) is felt with some wistful languor and cruelty through his connections with highfalutin intellectuals but also through meeting an old friend (Carlo Verdone) who runs a gentleman's club. The man's daughter, Ramona, a young middle-aged dancer well-played by Sabrina Ferilli, helps Jep to a degree out of a malaise with her companionship.
Sorrentino and his talented craftsmen especially lenser Luca Bigazzi use Rome's backdrop in all of its grandeur as a scene echoes the famous one from Fellini's La Dolce Vita when it comes to churches, riverside walkways, and, of course, fountains. The impact is actually rather interpretative and personal when it comes to the filmmaker's excessive, extravagant take on what thematically includes love, regret, and reinvention. The Great Beauty is an apt description for what mightily impresses on a sheer, pictorial level even if it is quite a rich cinematic dish that can captivate through its reverential nature, but can prove taxing in its soulful way of getting back to the root of things.
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