Movie Reviews by Michael Phillips

La Grande Bellezza Movie Review & Trailer

The coolest actor on the planet?

At the moment my favorite -- cool, warm, whatever temperature -- is Toni Servillo, the Italian maestro of character actors. He has a way of conveying a lifetime of insight, irony, natural authority and blithe amusement behind every line reading.

Servillo's latest role is that of an impeccably dressed, impossibly jaded journalist, Rome's answer to Tom Wolfe, in the new film "La Grande Bellezza," translated as "The Great Beauty."

"La Grande Bellezza" is a beauty, all right.

It's more a style show than a deep philosophical treatise, but with surfaces this sleek and faces this interesting, I'll take style over substance any day.

Director and co-writer Paolo Sorrentino, who worked with Servillo on, among others, "Il Divo," has given us a "La Dolce Vita" for a new century, and a different, swirling collection (in widescreen color this time, as opposed to Fellini's black and white) of artists, actors, poseurs, striptease artists, performance artists, the rich, the famous, the sacred, the profane.

Servillo plays Jep Gambardella, whose terrace apartment overlooks the Coliseum. Following a prologue, the film begins with a dance party: Jep has turned 65, and high atop a skyline building, the beats are hot and anybody who's anybody is there, currying favor, listening for witticisms, basking in the powerful journalist's self-regarding glow.

He came to Rome, as he tells us in voice-over, to become "king of the high life." But that wasn't enough; more than parties, he says, he wanted the power to "make them a failure."

Such observations inform every inch of this charismatic bastard's temperament. He lives in the past and is proud of it; nostalgia is all. He wrote a major novel, his first and only, 40 years earlier as a young man. Then, nothing. The newspaper life, full of late nights and contentious interviews, suits him fine.

Then, in this lightly plotted affair, some conflict. Jep learns of the death of his first and possibly only true love, and something inside him shifts. "The Great Beauty" is about that shift. It is a flamboyantly comic externalization of that shift.

The actors are all choice, particularly Giovanna Vignola as his editor, who makes him dinner, lends an ear and cajoles him out of his reveries. "The Great Beauty" treats the audience to an overture of sorts, a tour of Rome from the tourists' point of view. In one brief segment a camera-wielding day-tripper pauses between photographs to take in the view. He collapses and dies. The beauty of the place has killed him. Jep, in his own way, is being tortured to death by the city he loves.

The epilogue completes the notion. We leave Jep and as the end credits roll, Sorrentino closes with an extended shot of the Tiber River at dawn, scored to "The Beatitudes" by Russian composer Vladimir Martynov. It's enough to give you religion, or take it away, or something. But it is something, all right. One Russian critic likened the experience of listening to the music to being "tortured by beauty."

The film "La Grande Bellezza," I suppose, is limited by a certain smugness -- Jep is the arbiter of taste and class and the exemplar of honesty in this story, and Sorrentino never really tests his protagonist in provocative ways. But Servillo, the actor, suggests so much between what is written, and what we experience visually, that "The Great Beauty" expands in its scope as it goes. A huge hit in Italy, the film deserves to be seen on a large screen wherever possible.

"La Grande Bellezza" - 3.5 Stars

No MPAA rating

Running time: 2:21

"La Grande Bellezza" Movie Trailer


About the Movie "La Grande Bellezza"

Journalist Jep Gambardella has charmed and seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. He has been a permanent fixture in the city's literary and social circles, but when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life.

One of the most spectacular and talked-about films of the Cannes Film Festival, and Italy's official submission for the 2014 Academy Awards, THE GREAT BEAUTY is Paolo Sorrentino's powerful and evocative tale of hedonism and lost love, and an extraordinary depiction of contemporary Rome -- where life is a performance, and the city its stage. 65-year-old Jep Gambardella (the extraordinary Toni Servillo) is a jaded journalist and wealthy bon vivant whose early promise as a novelist has never been fulfilled, though his infamy remains. He lives in a luxurious apartment overlooking the Colosseum and is a regular of Rome's party circuit for the elite, a never-ending nocturnal parade of decadence that rages through antique palaces, immense villas and opulent terraces around the Eternal City.

The blinding metropolis Jep strolls through by day seems to reflect the futility of his actions and those of his friends, but his worldview begins to shift after a man arrives on his doorstep and informs him of the death of his first love. Both troubled and moved by the revelation, Jep is flooded with memories of the past and ponders the promise of what may remain.... Arguably one of the most striking evocations of a city ever filmed, "The Great Beauty" ("La Grande Bellezza") is a vibrant and breathtaking cinematic feast for the senses that captures Rome in a style reminiscent (and in celebration) of the great Fellini -- in all of its splendour and superficiality, magnificence and malevolence, artifice and significance.

"La Grande Bellezza" Movie Review - "La Grande Bellezza" starring Toni Servillo & Giovanna Vignola

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