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The Great Beauty - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Great Beauty
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: C-

"I tried to find the great beauty," says Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), "but I didn't find it."

Yeah, I didn't either.

The Great Beauty is that rare movie that most critics respond to positively, but I'm just not feeling it. There's a lot of comparisons to Fellini, whose work I am largely unfamiliar with, and I'll freely admit that may be part of the problem. But so what? A film should work on its own terms, without contextual explanation. Consider Far From Heaven, the brilliant 2002 film that was a meticulous homage to Douglas Sirk films. One need not to have seen any Sirk films (I hadn't) to appreciate the movie's greatness.

This one, on the other hand, feels a little enamored with itself. At 142 minutes, director and writer Paolo Sorrentino makes an over-long ode to self-indulgence, on multiple levels. The main character, Jep, has just had his 65th birthday -- itself a far too long opening sequence -- and spends the rest of the film contemplating his life, and aging, in consistently oblique ways, aided by lovely cinematography that is undermined by overdone editing. Clip after clip goes by that you want to keep viewing, to savor, and they last all of one or two seconds. Sorrentino creates a dream world as envisioned by MTV. If this movie were edited down to five or ten minutes, it could indeed have made a brilliant music video.

Many of the interludes are set to music of many different genres, rendering it a little more like a schizophrenic music video of excessive length. When things slow down and dialogue happens, there is a sense of impending substance to the story. And the substance comes, eventually, but it is largely inaccessible.

Sorrentino essentially takes two hours of the viewer's time to show how it is slowly dawning on Jep that he is disappointed with his life. He has long lived "the high life," as he puts it, and spent decades riding the wave of that lifestyle, without contributing anything substantial to the world after a novel written long ago that is widely considered a masterpiece. Now, in between interview assignments with artists like a woman who runs down an outdoor stage to ram her head into a stone wall, Jep is constantly asked why he never wrote another novel.

There's not a whole lot more to this film than that, even though Jep has sporadic, semi-intellectual conversations with longtime friends, none of whom are particularly close to him. In one sense, The Great Beauty is a portrait of the city of Rome and its society, the vanity and superficiality of its people. But really, what city could not be portrayed in such a way? This movie, which is indeed Italian, could easily be transferred in setting to Los Angeles, with only minor tweaks for cultural context, and it would play the same. It just wouldn't be as pretty because most of L.A. looks like shit. That said, people like this are everwhere: it could be in New York, or Nashville, or New Orleans, or wherever.

Maybe this is a movie that people will be talking about in another ten or twenty years, and I just don't get it. If there's something more to The Great Beauty, then it went over my head. After those ten or twenty years, I probably still won't get it. It won't stop being pretty to look at, though. Too bad it feels like the editors themselves were on cocaine.

Toni Servillo and Sabrina Ferilli try to make sense of THE GREAT BEAUTY. Or maybe that was just me.

Overall: C+
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