In decadent Rome, an aging art critic rides the success of his one, long-ago novel, and wonders if there’s more to life than having the best conga line in the Eternal City. He watches young nuns playing in a hedge maze, drifts into and through relationships with damaged women, and does a lot of eloquent smoking.
The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s update of/homage to La Dolce Vita, offers a lot of expected pleasures. Our antihero, Jep Gambarella (Toni Servillo), sometimes seems to be genuinely having fun, and at those points I tended to have fun right along with him. The camera swoons and swoops. The art and landscape of Rome look glorious–the many different, clashing landscapes, nuns scuttling past a satyr, neon lights and ancient stones. The satire of terrible performance art probably goes on too long (I would’ve cut the on-the-nose sequence with the man whose father photographed him every day of his life, and the knife thrower) but it ranges from acidic to surprisingly thought-provoking, disturbing, and nuanced.
Jep is a critic in the worst way: somebody who makes his living off of art. It’s a job which breeds cynicism. And Rome is famously a city of cynics.
But somewhere around the three-quarters point of the movie, something unexpected occurs.
more–highly recommended for film lovers, mackerel-snappers, existentialists, and the art-damaged. Review has spoilers for the mood of the ending; as usual, I’m glad I went in knowing virtually nothing about the film, so if you’re like me you should just go see it and read my review afterward.