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Movie review: Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty' is appropriately named

The Great Beauty


As stated in the Italian film, La grande bellezza (translated in English to "The Great Beauty", and opening today at the Detroit Film Theater), everything ends with death. Ah, but before death, there is life. In this film, director Paolo Sorrentino's stunning, near-visual masterpiece is full of life, a deep inhale of the beauties that surround us and the wonderful colors of our past.

"The Great Beauty."
2013 Janus Films

The Great Beauty features a camera that moves and wanders nearly as much as the film's subject does. It follows around a man, Jep Gambardella (the wonderful Toni Servillo), and we first meet him on the night of his 65th birthday exuberant rooftop bash overlooking Rome. The film instantly sucks you in with the mesmerizing faces and angles, but you'll quickly realize that Jep's life is no lifelong orgy.

He had published a book, "The Human Apparatus," when he was a young man and it was wildly popular and successful. The book allowed Jep to live a cush life-style and surround him with other upper-class citizens. But that was his one and only book. Why? The question is never directly answered, but the film slowly peels away layers of his past, while he drifts through the present.

Rome is a beautiful city, but here it is made to feel spectacular. That's part of the message of the film, if there is one. We learn about Jep's past and about a love that was lost. His book - another relic from yester-years - is his sole accomplishment and contribution to the world. Jep, and others in the film, are so caught up in the glory of the past, they fail to see the great beauty that surrounds them, even as we see the irony.

But Jep has also fallen comfortable and complacent with the spoils of his endeavors. While he waxes philosophical, he has no reservations in taking part in all of the excess that his wealthy lifestyle brings him.

The Great Beauty is never dull and Toni Servillo does it a great service in making something out of what could have been nothing. There is a hollowness to some of the characters - many of them created with style over substance - but Servillo's performance makes this a human story.

This is Paolo Sorrentino's tribute to Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and comparisons can instantly be made. One is in our past and the other is here, now. Both are beautifully crafted from the same fine marble.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Foreign

Run Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes, Not Rated

Starring: Tony Servillo, Sabrina Ferilli, Giorgio Pasotti, Carlo Verdone

Co-Written and Directed by Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place, The Family Friend, One Man Up)

Opens locally on Friday, Jan 17, 2014 (check for show times).

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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