Paolo Sorrentino‘s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) is not just a return to the highly stylized realm of Il Divo, but a channelling of Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita with perhaps a few sprinkles of Fellini Satyricon. It’s a contemporary Roman dream fantasia, familiar and picturesque and deliciously unreal, that serves as a kind of meditation or spiritual journey piece about a 60ish good-time-Charlie journalist (Toni Servillo) trying to cut through the crap and clutter of his life and perhaps get beyond regarding everything and everyone with a smirk and rediscover something sacred…a sense of purpose or connectivity, God, love, or a yen to write books again.
His name is Jep Gambardella, and he’s a burnt-out case who wrote one compelling novel (or “novelette,” as one of his friends calls it) a few decades back but since then has become a likably decadent party animal, living the nocturnal high life with a crowd of elite Roman pallies cut from the same cloth as Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg and all the other decadent Romans some 53 and 50 years ago, respectively.
The film is also a love letter to Rome, which is shot and lighted with a delicious syrupy vibe and exquisite tonal balance (I was reminded at times of the colorfully glossy style of Radley Metzger, no offense) and presented like some kind of old-world architectural symphony.
What is La Grande Bellezza about? Not just poor jaded Jep and the sadness and loss that he feels as he says “aah, fuck it” over and over and looks back at his youth and a girl who dropped him to his everlasting regret, but also how shallow and puerile and sad and “nothing” the Roman lah-lahs are and how it all adds up to the smallest hill of beans imaginable, but what a delight for the eyes as all this nothingness unfolds, over and over in rolling orgasmic waves.
I suppose La Grande Bellezza‘s biggest star and biggest believer in beauty is Sorrentino, in a sense, and the real subject is what a visual maestro he can be when he puts his mind to it. That’s all I can gather at this point. I loved drifting along and going with the pageantry, but I can’t honestly say I was riveted or elated. I felt as if I was cruising along in an electric tour bus with a glass of champagne in my hand, and sometimes smiling and at other times smirking or going “hmmm” but always delighted at how great it all looks.
La Grande Bellezza has no U.S. distributor as we speak, but the film opens in Italy tomorrow — Tuesday, 5.21.
It’s 10:26 pm and I’m feeling a bit shagged and fagged, but I’m off to a yacht party being thrown in honor of James Toback‘s Seduced and Abandoned.