The Great Beauty image The Great Beauty imageThe Great Beauty image

January 17 — January 23

The Great Beauty

Unrated, contains profanity and nudity; 142 minutes. (In Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese with English subtitles.)

Link to film's website

Fri 5:30 8:30
Sat & Sun 2:00 5:00 8:00
Mon-Thurs 5:30

Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.

Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita is a masterpiece of Italian cinema: an acerbic, witty dissection of the bored and idle rich, whose superficial glamour and joie de vivre conceals empty lives bereft of genuine passion, moral energy, and spiritual values. What does the “sweet life” look like 50 years later? Director Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to the 1960 classic updates our look at what the wealthiest “one percent” do for kicks; today’s more relaxed standards of movie content (and advances in moviemaking technology) help Sorrentino outdo Fellini in the amount of colorful spectacle, debauchery, outrageousness, and hedonistic excess he can put on screen—but The Great Beauty shares Fellini’s mixed feelings, his simultaneous fascination and horror at how materialism and sensation-seeking have become a new religion. Fellini’s tour guide through this garish underworld was the incomparable Marcello Mastroianni, a journalist who gets sucked into the non-stop party as more than a disinterested observer. Sorrentino uses Toni Servillo (playing journalist Jep Gambardella) in much the same way: as an audience surrogate bridging our world to the unimaginable Garden of Delights we think the rich and powerful inhabit. But Jep is more fully entrenched in this world than Mastroianni’s self-searching refugee; celebrating his 65th birthday at the beginning of The Great Beauty, Jep is thoroughly jaded, content to attend or host lavish fêtes for his wealthy acquaintances and connections, trading on his brief fame as a promising novelist to gain entrée into the halls of decadence. But it’s an empty cycle, a never-ending search for bigger thrills, more shocking behavior, greater moral irreverence—and for Jep, the pursuit of excitement has long passed the point where it’s “fun” anymore. Sorrentino brilliantly captures the frenzied, misplaced energy and shallow sophistication of the jet set, without coming across as a moral scold or becoming seduced himself by his subject. Audiences will appreciate the initial allure of this world, because there is great beauty (in one oddball scene, a Japanese tourist is physically overcome by the breathtaking panorama of Rome)—but we are also invited to ask, “What does it all mean?” Toni Servillo is fantastic as Jep; he is dour and depressed, but intelligent, witty, and savvy enough to use his inherent sobriety and inner sadness to give himself a sense of mystery and fascination to the much younger, sexier, more carefree (and brainless) denizens of this Inferno. Moviegoers will detect, however, that his hidden dissatisfaction with the way his life has turned out is more than a partygoer’s pose; and indeed, we learn that Jep does have a secret crossroads in his past, a love affair that could have become something more, but did not. When Jep learns of the woman’s death from her husband, he realizes that door is now closed: any fantasy of romantic reconciliation and second chances are buried forever. So, too, might go any hope of Jep reclaiming his literary talent, briefly claimed as a young man when he published a short novel called “The Human Apparatus.” Since then, Jep’s connection to genuine humanity has become increasingly tenuous. But his heart is stirred by the news of his idealized lover’s passing: perhaps there’s still a chance that he can salvage his own soul, become a serious artist… or at least a real human being? The problem for Jep is that he’s at heart still a moralist: he knows he doesn’t deserve redemption, but craves it all the same. His inner struggle is juxtaposed with amazing, unexpected images and scenes that are by turns gloriously over-the-top, scathingly satirical, disturbingly erotic, and grandly symbolic. Sorrentino’s camera doesn’t peer at the privileged classes like a microscope—it’s a swooping, twirling, darting bird of prey, or perhaps like a rubbernecking, gleeful paparazzo (a word coined by La dolce vita). What could have been a somber meditation on the meaningless waste of one’s life becomes a glittering, dynamic jewelry box full of memorable eccentrics, waspish dialogue, and kitschy spectacle. More than just a takedown of the entitled class, the movie is Sorrentino’s unbridled ode to cinema, mixing sound and color and movement in a collage of sensory overload. Ultimately, it’s Servillo, with his charisma, charm, and wise, world-weary demeanor that keeps this carnival from rocketing out of the stratosphere: he’s the educated, once-promising artist who coasted on his early praise, took the easy path to fame, and now lives with the regret of an empty life—it’s the type of character that most actors would make pitiable, but Servillo gives Jep Gambardella a faded majesty that makes his search for his better self genuinely sympathetic. The Great Beauty is more than a worthy companion to Fellini’s masterpiece; it’s a daringly crafted, provocative spiritual adventure custom-made for an increasingly fragmented and rudderless 21st century (the chic ennui of the 1960’s has been replaced by the hip irony of the new millennium). Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, likened the movie to a gourmet feast: “a magnificent banquet composed of 78 sweet courses.” The epicurean reference is apt, because Sorrentino’s three-hour epic is not only a visual feast but thematically, it’s about people who live (metaphorically) on desserts: the sugar overload either drives them crazy or forces them to seek foods of greater substance and nutritive value. Sorrentino gives us both—the sweetness and the substance—and the result is a thought-provoking, philosophical, and aesthetically remarkable film like no other.

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