Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The 25 Best TV Dramas Since 'The Sopranos' The 25 Best TV Dramas Since 'The Sopranos' Natalie Portman, Nicholas Hoult & Thandie Newton Join Xavier Dolan's 'The Death and Life of John F. Donovan' Natalie Portman, Nicholas Hoult & Thandie Newton Join Xavier Dolan's 'The Death and Life of John F. Donovan' Disruptors: How Netflix & Amazon Are Creating Greater Tumult In The Independent Film Industry Disruptors: How Netflix & Amazon Are Creating Greater Tumult In The Independent Film Industry Kristen Stewart, James Franco, And Helena Bonham Carter to Star In Drama 'JT LeRoy' Kristen Stewart, James Franco, And Helena Bonham Carter to Star In Drama 'JT LeRoy' Matt Damon Talks "Dark And Tortured" 'Jason Bourne,' Says Film Touches On Financial Collapse, Cyber Warfare & Civil Liberties Matt Damon Talks "Dark And Tortured" 'Jason Bourne,' Says Film Touches On Financial Collapse, Cyber Warfare & Civil Liberties Review: Unique And Freaky Polish Cannibal Mermaid Musical 'The Lure' Review: Unique And Freaky Polish Cannibal Mermaid Musical 'The Lure' New Plot Details Emerge For Claire Denis' Sci-Fi 'High Life' With Robert Pattinson New Plot Details Emerge For Claire Denis' Sci-Fi 'High Life' With Robert Pattinson Watch: First Trailer For 'Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates' With Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick & Aubrey Plaza Watch: First Trailer For 'Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates' With Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick & Aubrey Plaza Watch: The World Unites In Super Bowl Spot For 'Independence Day: Resurgence' Watch: The World Unites In Super Bowl Spot For 'Independence Day: Resurgence' Watch: Fly To Gotham And Metropolis In Turkish Airlines Promos For 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: Fly To Gotham And Metropolis In Turkish Airlines Promos For 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: 19-Minute Interview With Todd Haynes About Making 'Carol,' David Bowie, And Much More Watch: 19-Minute Interview With Todd Haynes About Making 'Carol,' David Bowie, And Much More 'Interstellar' Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema Reteams With Christopher Nolan For 'Dunkirk' 'Interstellar' Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema Reteams With Christopher Nolan For 'Dunkirk' How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' 21 Movies About Weird, Kinky Or Compulsive Sex 21 Movies About Weird, Kinky Or Compulsive Sex Coens Say There’s “A Good Chance” That ‘Hail Caesar’ With George Clooney Will Be Next Coens Say There’s “A Good Chance” That ‘Hail Caesar’ With George Clooney Will Be Next The Playlist Bares All: 20 Unforgettable Nude Scenes The Playlist Bares All: 20 Unforgettable Nude Scenes 16 Great Revenge Movies Worth Hunting Down 16 Great Revenge Movies Worth Hunting Down

Cannes Review: 'La Grande Bellezza' An Indulgent But Dreamy Reflection On Life, Love & More

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 21, 2013 at 3:45PM

Opening with a literal bang from a cannon and proceeding into an over-the-top party sequence, Paolo Sorrentino lets you know from the start that nothing will be held back in his latest, "La Grande Bellezza." After breaking out on the international scene with "The Consequences of Love" and "Il Divo," and then taking a jaunt into English language filmmaking with 2011's "This Must Be The Place," Sorrentino returns to his native country, for a Fellini-esque tale that isn't so much a story as a set of impressions. Life, love, philosophy, religion are just some of his subjects in an indulgent but heady piece of cinema, from a singularly distinctive voice.
4
Grande Bellezza

Opening with a literal bang from a cannon and proceeding into an over-the-top party sequence, Paolo Sorrentino lets you know from the start that nothing will be held back in his latest, "La Grande Bellezza." After breaking out on the international scene with "The Consequences of Love" and "Il Divo," and then taking a jaunt into English language filmmaking with 2011's "This Must Be The Place," Sorrentino returns to his native country, for a Fellini-esque tale that isn't so much a story as a set of impressions. Life, love, philosophy, religion are just some of his subjects in an indulgent but heady piece of cinema, from a singularly distinctive voice.

Toni Servillo reteams with Sorrentino to take the lead role of Jep Gambardella, a one time author turned journalist and socialite who, following his recent 65th birthday, reflects on the life he's lived...and the one he could have lived. This leads into to a study of Rome itself, of whether the city and the country has lived up to its promise, of what the future might hold, and although Sorrentino doesn't seem all that optimistic, he has a helluva time telling the story.

La grande bellezza

Parties, visits to nighttime haunts, performance pieces (earning one of the movie's biggest laughs), flashbacks to his first love and more serve as the backdrop to the movie, which moves like a dream, less with a plot and more a propelled non-linear trip through self-reflection. Having had success with his first novel, Jep has never followed it up with another, though has no reason why. He also regrets never having had children, having never settled down with one woman long enough to do so. On the downward slope of his life, Jep wonders if the failures are his own or part of Italian society at large.

"Nostalgia is the only feeling left for those who have no faith in the future," Jep's best friend notes, and indeed Sorrentino plays the violin loudly for the past. Contemporary art is literally compared to the manic emotions of a young child throwing paint onto a canvas, an extended sequence centered on plastic surgery is an unsubtle commentary on contemporary obsession with youth, and the general wisdom put forth is that things that are older are better...or is Jep an unreliable narrator?

La grande bellezza

Sorrentino knows that Jep -- played with a perfect blend of tempered gentleman, suave womanizer and wise, well traveled man by Servillo -- has also frittered away his own talents. He's constantly asked about when he'll write another book, and he's quick to judge his friends, without seeing the emptiness he has surrounded himself with. He's almost a Jay Gatsby-like figure, building around himself a monument that is opulently empty. But the movie itself does revel in evoking classic Italian cinema, and does revere the architecture, artwork and overall memory of Italy of old; it's no surprise when the Costa Concordia is shown looming the background of one shot, underscored as a reminder of the country's current failures. 

Not all of this works. Reaching nearly two and a half hours, "La Grande Bellezza" does overstay its welcome (how many party scenes do you need?) It does feel more indulgent than this kind of picture (i.e. about indulgence) can be forgiven for. Sorrentino also seems to have an uncomfortable relationship to ethic groups, as Japanese, Mexican and Middle Easterners get some rather broad characterizations, and that's saying something in a picture that certainly paints broad strokes of Italians themselves. Do those groups not fit into contemporary Italy? What is Sorrentino saying about them? He's not exactly clear, and one wishes that message would have been finessed a little bit better.

La grande bellezza

That said, that is something enjoyable about the messy, bloated "La Grande Bellezza." In exploring the regret of what could have been done, it simultaneously celebrates what has been done in one's life. It sees the folly in trying to understand missed opportunities and paths never taken, and it does so with humor that is often bitingly funny and grace, which is elegantly played. The score by Lele Marchitelli also adds an elegiac and wistful tone that helps carry the emotional core of the movie, a core Sorrentino himself doesn't always manage to find in the opulence of his effort.

Just like Fellini's grand spectacles, "La Grande Bellezza" washes over you in series of scenes, visages, sensations and impressions, and although in this case it doesn't quite gel into a cohesive whole, it's nonetheless a journey worth taking; a travelogue through memory and dreams, in which life is greatest fiction we could ever create. [B]

This article is related to: Paolo Sorrentino , La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), Reviews, Review, Cannes Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates