Brief Thoughts: The Great Beauty
I really enjoy putting my reviews together. I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer. This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them. They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there. This latest "Brief Thoughts" post is a review for the Oscar nominated Italian film The Great Beauty from writer/director Paolo Sorrentino.
The Great Beauty: 3 1/2 out of 5
I have something to admit, before I get into my thoughts on The Great Beauty. Perhaps this admission is not a truly devastating, but my knowledge on Italian director Federico Fellini and his films is fairly limited. I have seen two of the influential director's films and I have done little to really explore his influences on filmmaking in general. It is not as if I do not care or found myself disliking 8 1/2 or anything like that; it just comes down to only having so much time to dig into films and filmmakers of the past. I bring this up because, despite my limited knowledge, The Great Beauty is a film that seems to have "Fellini" written all over it. A modern interpretation, sure, but that is what I saw and a brief skim through some general thoughts from other reviewers showed me that I was certainly not the first person to think this.
Attempting to explain the plot is fairly useless, as The Great Beauty is not a film that relies on a story arc, necessarily. The film revolves around Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), an elderly socialite who wrote a very successful novel when he was young and has basically lived a life of luxury ever since. He writes cultural columns occasionally, but is currently better known for throwing great parties at his home, which overlooks the Roman Coliseum. The film essentially picks up during Jep's 65th birthday party and goes from there. We watch Jep interact with various characters and reflect on his own life.
I have seen one other film from writer/director Sorrentino and that was his English-language feature debut, This Must Be the Place, which I quite enjoyed. I know of his other films, such as Il Divo, but I can tell he is a filmmaker very comfortable with the amount of style on display in his films. The Great Beauty is a fantastic sensory experience. The visuals are fantastic, the music/score and its placement in the film is wonderful, and even the Italian language that these people speak is nice to hear. There is certainly a lot to admire when it comes to seeing a technical marvel on display, which is coming in the form of a reality-based comedy-drama, as opposed to something more genre-based.
Coming back to the Fellini relation, while set in the real world, The Great Beauty does utilize a lot of stylish imagery to convey a certain sense of place for the mindset of Jep. The film also does everything it can to show that it is an Italian film, based on the various stylistic qualities, some of which I have described above, and others that surround the nature of the film's plotting, the different characters involved, and the way it leans on having a fantastical side, despite remaining grounded.
Having put all that out there, while The Great Beauty is a well made film and often quite absorbing, the lack of any real conflict tends to have an effect when watching a nearly 2 1/2 hour film. There is something to be said for a film that is clearly lacking in much substance, but still holds your attention. Various genre films have certainly gotten away with that for years (and it is fun to think of the parties as action scenes in this film), but there is more to appreciate in films that have a bit more on their mind.
I guess I have found a way to entertain myself by comparing The Great Beauty to a mindless action film or something of the same ilk, but it comes down to where my appreciation lies. The Great Beauty is the kind of foreign/art house picture that was great to watch once, but has little in it that makes me personally anticipate seeing it again. It has tremendous qualities for sure and that is what makes it worth seeking out, but satisfaction the one time may be all that I needed.