The Great Beauty, Blu-ray (2013)

by | Apr 4, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

The Great Beauty, Blu-ray (2013)

Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Studio: The Criterion Collection 702 (Dual-format, 3 discs) [3/25/14]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English
Extras: Conversation bet. Sorrentino and Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda; Interviews with Servillo and with screenwriter Umberto Contarello; Deleted scenes; Trailer; Illus. booklet with essay by critic Phillip Lopate
Length: 141 minutes
Rating: *****

This epic on the alternately absurd and exquisite beauty of Rome is thought of by some as La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 brought up to date. It certainly has many Felliniesque moments in it, plus gorgeous cinematography. Writer Jep Gabardella wrote a well-accepted novel 40 years ago and now just does interviews occasionally, having become the leader of the glittering high society nightlife in Rome. The film opens with his wild 65th birthday party, and finds him sort of staking stock of himself, his surroundings and friends.

Those around Jeb are all party animals, and several times they are shown as the audience for a wild creative poser of some sort, such as a young girl painter who throws herself and all her paints against the huge canvas, and another performance artist who runs in the nude hard into the stone wall of a Roman viaduct. Jeb walks around Rome, observing his surroundings and reflecting on his passions, past romances, and on growing old. He has some wicked insights into decadent Roman life and people, and finds that life now lacks the charm and interest it had for him as a youth. One of his friends says Rome has let him down. On his peregrinations Jeb runs into some Felliniesque things, such as a giant giraffe at night in a plaza. And his boss at the magazine he writes for is a dwarf. There is an amazing scene of a flock of flamingos settling on the railings of a balcony to eat some of the leftovers from a party that were left there.

The language and symbols of Roman Catholicism are a major part of the film, as they are of Fellini’s. A cardinal who attends some of the gatherings is asked a spiritual question, but all he wants to constantly talk about is his various recipes for rabbit and other special dishes.  It even concludes with a 104-year-old nun (a Mother Teresa-type whom they call a saint) struggling up a religious stairway on her knees. The Antonioni influence is seen in the several shots in which the characters leave the frame and yet the camera continues to record the environment as we move thru it.

While the cinematography and musical score make this a film that really fits its title, and it is surely very Fellini-like, Jeb’s character is a bit less like Fellini’s Marcello and more like wild-eyed GianCarlo Gianini.  At the end he has gained an awareness that art (and perhaps even this film) is “just a trick,” as the magician said who made the giraffe disappear. If you didn’t get enough of slowly trucking thru the lovely environs of Rome, the closing titles give you a bit more as you move down the Tiber. This is one I’m keeping to watch again.

—John Sunier

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