The Great Beauty ★★★★½

I'm not a misogynist, I'm a misanthrope.

Beauty kills.

Such is the case for an unfortunate tourist who, at the beginning of La Grande Bellezza, takes one sweeping look over the tops of Rome, only to keel over and die.

The shocking opener sets the tone for the rest of the grand, extravagant film, and this slight touch of absurdism squirts a little twist of Fellini on the tongue that hangs around for its two and a half hour runtime of debauchery, beauty, and immense human tragedy.

Le Grande Bellezza is as close as we are going to get to the masterpieces of old here in the year 2013/2014. I'm not under the impression that its an entirely perfect film, but its a film we rarely see the likes of today; it seems to have waltzed out of a time where great auteurs walked the earth. But the film has a lot to say (sometimes almost too much at once) about the modern state of Roman high life as a companion to the common theme shared by any aging man.

If you've ever lived in one place for an extended period of time you may find yourself often in a phase of remembrance. Remembering the way things once were. Remembering how everything used to be easier. How things used to be fun. Remembering the people. The women. Remembering the summers that lasted longer. The sights that used to be more beautiful. Is it the times changing, or the man? Its this phase that Le Grande Bellezza explores with rather extravagant depth through its main character Jep Gambardella.

Jep is a socialite who has spent most evenings of the past 35+ years in a drunken daze hopping from one exuberant part to the next. Him and his fellow writers, artists, directors, celebrities, politicians, and rich brats have been partying on the rooftops of Rome overlooking the poor denizens for years without altruism or a tinge of remorse. They have provided the city with most of its art, creative influx, and money while slowly destroying themselves from the inside out. Around his 65th birthday, Jep has a realization that maybe all of this has been for nothing. There is a brilliant party scene at the beginning where Jep wades through the center of a dance floor with a look of sadness pooling in his eyes. From his realizations at the beginning, Jep spends the rest of the film engaging in uninspired political conversations, walking the streets at night without even glancing at beautiful roman scenery, and running into people from his past that draw to the surface many feelings of unfulfillment. His friends and lovers have come and gone and in a scene where he looks at an art exhibit filled with pictures of a man life, he realizes his life too has gone by as fast as viewing a series of photographs. As Jep courts a young woman through the Roman high life to show her a life of his long past, he sees her admiration for beauty and is almost inspired. But his old loves, bad memories, and wasted years keep him grounded in a world that doesn't have much else to give him. La Grande Bellezza is cynical, strange, and often sad but its never not engaging or utterly beautiful.

The magical pairing of Tony Servillo and director Paolo Sorrentino is once again magical. Sorrentino has created a Cinemascape of beauty and memory. Servillo has created a character of considerable emotional wealth, good humor, and relatability. Together they make a fantastic film about life, love, and seeing beauty; its packed with great imagery and is a throwback to old Italian cinema with a modern twist. Its a damn near modern masterpiece and one of the best of 2013. I don't typically like, or agree with the Golden Globes, but I'm glad La Grande Bellezza got well deserved recognition.

Also I have this film to thank for giving me my favorite character of 2013.

Jep Gambardella.

Larry liked this review