DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful looking films of 2013. And one that proves that beauty does not only go skin deep, it goes a lot further if you allow it to.
Watching The Great Beauty was an overwhelming experience. It comes at you full force, bombarding you with sensory overloads, only to become silent and contemplative the next minute. It is whimsical, much like the city it so adores seems to be.
Amidst all this is our seemingly hautein tour guide, who is looking for something he cannot find. Pure, unfiltered beauty and a sense purpose. With misanthropic glee he dismantles fake people around him, all the while gradually realizing he is slowly losing grip of what keeps him real. He is a walking contradiction that is back lit by a host of bizarre characters and occurrences, a prisoner of everything he condemns yet can't seem to live without. Unlikable, charismatic, charming and haughty all at once, captured in an astonishing performance by Toni Servillo.
Director Sorrentino brilliantly alternates between carefully staged scenes and more authentic backdrops, again commenting on the almost schizophrenic nature of the haute-couture jet set and the real world they are supposed to inhabit. He also, and this is an unavoidable thing when depicting Rome, manages to incorporate the religious parties in this bizarre tableau. A cardinal obsessed with recipes, the constant presence of nuns and the introduction of a divine 104 year old Saint are all welcome additions to this surreal cascade comprising the small slice of life we get to see of Jep Gambardella.
And yet, underneath all this bombasity, lie extraordinary moments of contemplation, running through the film like a motif embodying Jep's, for lack of a better word, quest. The ten-week long kiss, the view over Rome at night, the ocean on the ceiling, the girl who doesn't want to paint, an unexpected death, all moments that make Jep peel away at the self imposed layers around him, only for him to discover that life, beauty is an illusion. A trick.
To me, the Great Beauty is a condemnation of pretense, a passionate depiction of a city (Woody Allen can learn a thing or two here), an ode to beauty in all its guises and a great, if not brilliant, addition to Italian cinema.