Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is the playboy of the Italian world: a wealthy bon vivant who lives off the infamy of a novel he published many years before in a swirl of wild rooftop parties, decadent lunches and souless art gatherings among Rome’s high society elite. But learning of the death of his best friend’s wife – a woman he once loved as an 18-year-old – he begins to see the world through new eyes…
Just as Federico Fellini recorded the hedonistic years that followed as Italy emerged from World War Two in La Dolce Vita, 8½ and Roma, and Michelangelo Antonioni commented on man’s growing detachment in the modern age in his bleak 1960s trilogy, L’Avventura, Le notte and Eclipse, so does Paolo Sorrentino do the same here, but in a response to the Berlusconi era. The Greaty Beauty is an evocative tale of hedonism and lost love, and an extraordinary depiction of contemporary Rome – where life is a performance, and the city its stage, and features a career-best turn from Toni Servillo as the sixtysomething Jep.
Sorrentino’s camera – which never stops moving, craning all the while over ancient monuments, around post-modern sculptures and past a cavalcade of grotesque caricatures – sumptuously captures all the splendour and superficiality of Rome, a city that has descended into moral and spiritual chaos. A cinematic tour-de-force, The Great Beauty is so deserving of the universal acclaim it has received, culminating in a trilogy of best foreign language film prizes at the Baftas, the Golden Globes and, now, the Oscars, and just like Fellini’s Roma (now out on Blu-ray), you’ll want to return to it time and again.