THE GREAT BEAUTY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Paulo Sorrentino
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 141 Minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2014
The trains at our parties are the best in Rome. They're the best because they go nowhere.
Paulo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty has drawn lots of comparisons to Federico Fellini, and it's a comparison I concur with...however, for me, it's not the best recommendation. Despite many efforts over the years to warm up to Fellini, and despite finding his films from 8 ½ backwards to have charm and talent, I still find his later works to leave me cold. They are pretty but indulgent, enthusiastically made but struggling for some kind of point.
That is my assessment of The Great Beauty in a nutshell. It is not a film made by a director without talent, but possibly by a director who would rather see what happens as it occurs than one who is driven by a necessity to actually say something.
The story, as it is, follows Jep (Servillo), who has turned 65. Once upon a time, he was a top socialite in Rome. Today, he is a more mellowed columnist. One of the things he writes about is a female performance artist, whose art consists of running headfirst into a stone wall and injuring herself. She speaks with great pretension, but Jep is not enthused.
Most of the film is about his daily life in Rome, and the characters he encounters, none of which really build out of or into anything. Occasionally, there are some hints at life philosophies, but no themes seem to take hold.
The resulting film is like the train mentioned in the above quote...the movie won many awards, including the Oscar for Foreign Language Film, but is it the best really because it goes nowhere? It's pretty, but dull, and at nearly two and a half hours, somewhat excessive. My patience was gone before the first hour, so I suppose I can't argue that my patience was unrewarded.
At one point, there is a brief flashback to Jep's youth, and I thought maybe this was the direction; kind of a Colonel Blimp styled opus on an elderly man and how he got to where he is, but like every other episode in the film, it plays out independently and is quickly forgotten.
Fellini is a good comparison here...I have tried to be one of those critics who appreciates Fellini, but cannot claim to if I am honest with myself. This movie is the same: I wanted very much to like it, but felt restless and alienated by the lack of cohesive direction.
Yet Rome, as the supporting actress, is certainly lovely, and lovingly filmed. Both ancient and modern sides are at play here, and Sorrentino takes his time admiring all of it...too much time, in fact.
It's just not an enriching experience for a film lover. And while many may find much to love about this movie, and many have, I can't go along with the crowd and say I was one.
It's always nice when a new film makes its Blu-ray debut from Criterion (DVD version also included in this set). The movie, as mentioned, is beautifully filmed, and there is much to admire about the cinematography. The print, while not as bright and pristine as many modern offerings, is still lively and colorful, and very pleasant to look at.
Though mostly spoken words, the 5.1 soundtrack comes to life in some club scenes where the music is pounding and relentless, and gives the audio some dynamic range.
There is a conversation between Sorrentino and cultural critic Antonio Monda, new interviews with Toni Servillo and writer Umberto Contarello, some deleted scenes, and a trailer.
If you are one who loved The Great Beauty, I certainly would never try to talk you out of it, but neither will you talk me into it. There was potential here for a good story, but the restless lack of focus throughout makes it into something that just never really came together for me.