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New Release Review - The Great Beauty

A writer struggles to find the motivation to begin his second novel.


Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli


Jep Gambardella (Servillo) is an aging art critic, once revered for the sole novel he wrote as a younger man. Despite the insistence of his friends and peers, he refuses to write a follow-up novel until he can find a beauty worth motivating him. He's grown weary of his job, constantly having to indulge the pretentious nature of performance artists who are more interested in telling him about their, probably imaginary, troubled childhoods than discussing the meaning of their work. When the husband of a girl he once loved in secret during his youth informs Jep of her death, he begins to ponder the path his life choices have taken him down.
I'd like to call for a moratorium on narratives based around the theme of searching for something that happens to actually be right before your eyes. It's been used in everything from Stanley Kramer's deeply unfunny all-star comic caper 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World' to Paulo Coelho's incredibly condescending novel 'The Alchemist'. Sorrentino's follow-up to last year's highly pretentious and tedious 'This Must Be the Place' rolls out this tired cliche once more.
The movie opens with a Japanese tourist seeming to drop dead from a rather severe case of Stendahl syndrome, brought on by his gazing over the beauty of the Roman landscape. Poor Jep, however, can't appreciate the aesthetic wonders of his city, too caught up in his millionaire lifestyle of endless parties and meaningless sex with beautiful younger women. Oh, what hell it must be.
Some have called Sorrentino "the new Fellini", but "the Italian Luhrmann" would be a more appropriate moniker. Like that vulgar auteur, he can't help but fill the screen with crude visual gimmicks; here we get gratuitous dwarves, a giraffe and a flock of computer generated swans. The Neapolitan employs visual metaphors that would make Oliver Stone wince; here, a shot of a woman snorting coke is paired with one of jet-plane vapor trails in the sky, for example. His insistence on low angles and nonsensical editing is reminiscent of Michael Bay. Given the film's theme, it's ironic (whatever that word even means anymore) that he ruins the stunning work of his cinematographer, Luca Bigazzi, by cutting every shot before we can appreciate its composition. Perhaps this is on purpose but if that's the case then Sorrentino is cutting off Bigazzi's nose to spite his own face. Speaking of faces, there are few more cinematic than Servillo's. It's a shame he can't get better parts than this.
The patronizing tone of Sorrentino's film reaches a peak in a scene where, after a couple tell him their plans for the evening involve a combination of ironing and television, Jep remarks "What beautiful people you are" before telling them of his intention to party all night and hit his bed around the time they'll be vacating theirs. Nothing ruffles my feathers more than privileged artists moaning about their envy of "simple folk". On behalf of simple folk the world over, I invite Sorrentino to walk in our shoes for a few weeks before he next decides to tell us how much he envies our lot.
4/10


Eric Hillis

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