The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

  • The Great Beauty, writer/director Paulo Sorentino’s Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated film, is certainly beautiful.
  • Between gorgeous visuals and exceptional audio design, this Italian picture strikes a delicate balance between Baz Luhrmann-style excess and genuine character-study.
  • Strong performances, especially from Toni Servallo (Jep), help.
  • As does a well developed protagonist.
  • Furthermore, The Great Beauty succeeds as a contemplative analysis of the ways people hide their insecurities and past mistakes.  When Jep accosts Stefania (Galatea Ranzi), unabashedly exposing all of her self-deceptions, for example, Sorentino’s screenplay contains thematic truth. Just like these characters, all of us tell ourselves stories to make sense of our lives.
  • The Great Beauty frequently works as a character study, as well. That Jep is a popular and skilled socialite doesn’t guarantee he finds enjoyment in his behavior. Or lacks regret. Through Jep we begin to understand the experience some have as they age.
  • Yet, for all of its effectiveness, Sorentino’s film never resonates.
  • Partially because the director basks in visual and auditory stimulation for long sequences, holding shots of Roman architecture, fountains, beaches, grand ballrooms, statues, performance artists, and, of course, parties filled with various well-to-do faces. He stays with these sequences for such lengthy stretches that we are removed from the characters and their emotions and instead become observers of unrelated events.
  • Not only do all of these ‘stimulus-immersions’ render The Great Beauty languidly paced, but they also ensure that we never fully empathize with on-screen characters. The rare times Jep breaks down, we feel nothing. When he explodes at Stefania, we don’t feel her grief, his anger, or the observers’ discomfort. And so forth.
  • In other words, we can appreciate the artistry in Sorentino’s filmmaking (and it is certainly artistic), but that very strength proves a significant narrative flaw, one from which The Great Beauty never fully recovers.
  • Final Grade: C+

12 thoughts on “The Great Beauty

  1. Nice post. I thought this film was very good, but recognise the flow you mentioned. After watching Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Consequences of Love’ I never expect anything less than truly mesmerising and captivating from this director anymore, and he rarely disappoints me.

  2. I’m honestly just happy to see I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it — “He stays with these sequences for such lengthy stretches that we are removed from the characters and their emotions and instead become observers of unrelated events” is so very accurate. I was just bored with the film.

    • Yeah. Bored is a proper summation, I think. It is art house-y enough to not be a total failure, but it isn’t terribly accessible as a narrative. Sensory beauty is great, but I prefer a bit more narrative weight, as it were.

    • It is probably the favorite for the Oscars. They do love awarding celebrated filmmakers.

      But I think The Hunt still has an outside chance of pulling out victory. We’ll see.

  3. This is one that was a big maybe in terms of if I will ever watch it. However, I am getting sick of the recent trend of movies that choose style over substance. And get highly praised for it because it is different. It is a stupid phase to say the least. The perfect movie is a combination of style and substance, meaning it must have a strong enough narrative to go along with it. Shame that this doesn’t, despite the character study aspects…

    • The thing about this is that the narrative really could be emotionally gripping, if the style didn’t keep taking is out of the characters. There is some notable substance here; I just think it gets drowned out by sensory stimulation.

  4. Thank God, another critic who recognises the beauty of this film while not particularly liking it! It’s hardly a bad film – and it’s certainly gorgeous – but I don’t understand the love for this at all. It just came across as fundamentally hollow to me. Great review.

    • Exactly. I think it has the ingredients to tell an interesting story about a complex person, but it just doesn’t care to focus on them, and ends up being an unmemorable piece of artistry. I cannot understand how it got Globe and Oscar nominations, much less victories, not when Wadjda was up for consideration, too.

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