Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardella – an ageing and respectable writer of an immensely successfully novel in his youth – a novel has is yet to follow up. While those around him continuously ask why he didn’t ever publish a second book, it provokes the popular and playful writer to bitterly recount a lost youth, as he searches for what he perceives to be ‘the great beauty’. Though living opposite the Rome Colosseum, and surrounded by some of the most inspiring art and culture available to man, with a plethora of influential friends and potentially enlivening opportunities, the beauty for which he searches may well be found a little closer to home.
Covering a variety of elements to life extensively, Sorrentino masterfully explores love, death, nostalgia and religion, resulting in an array of emotions being triggered amongst the faithful viewer. At times we are made to feel exhilarated and rejuvenated, while at others we feel pensive and morose, in what proves to be a thought-provoking picture that demands a second viewing. To enhance the emotional aspect to this film, the score is simply wonderful, as every single track – from classical to contemporary dance music – helps to form the unique and memorable atmosphere that exists.
The Great Beauty also offers the audience a vibrant, albeit realistic, look into typical Roman life and culture – yet we’re doing it from an outsiders perspective, as Jep moved to the capital in his twenties. This allows the viewer to step inside of his mind, and see the world from his point of view, avoiding any potential sense of alienation. Rome is portrayed so elegantly on the big screen too, as the setting plays such a huge part in this production, as Sorrentino paints a portrait that picks up masterfully on urban sensibilities.
Meanwhile, Servillo is expertly cast as our lead, with a wisdom and astuteness to his demeanour that we need in order to trust that his outlook on life is coming from an accomplished, cultured and well-versed frame of mind. He also works as the entry point for the viewer into this somewhat surrealistic environment that Sorrentino has created. We witness a handful of absurdities and quirks that we struggle to comprehend, before we cut back to Jep’s face, who always looks as bemused as we do. However despite the surreal nature to the film, the majority of the dark comedy that exists derives from the relatable idiosyncrasies of everyday human relations, in a darkly comic film that will have you laughing out loud on occasion.
In what is a very visceral, multilayered number – The Great Beauty is simply an astonishing piece of filmmaking. There may not be any conventional structure as such, with no linear path to follow, but nevertheless, while Jep desperately searches for his own divine guidance in life, it’s safe to say that, in this instance, the one great beauty that does prevail, is cinema.