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Sorrentino’s ‘Beauty’ more than skin-deep

The Great Beauty

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Cast: Toni Servillo, Sabrina Ferilli

Rated: Unrated (mature themes)

Running time: 142 min.

Posted 4:06pm on Friday, Jan. 03, 2014

As its name promises, The Great Beauty is drop-dead gorgeous, a film that is luxuriously, seductively, stunningly cinematic. But more than intoxicating imagery is on director Paolo Sorrentino’s mind, a lot more.

One of Italy’s most impressive contemporary filmmakers, Sorrentino has a superb sense of how to fill a wide screen and, working with his longtime cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, a wizard with camera movement, his visuals display the intoxicating richness of color 35-millimeter film in a way few contemporary ventures can match.

But because Sorrentino is reunited as well with his signature actor, the masterful Toni Servillo, remarkable as Italian career politician Giulio Andreotti in the director’s best known film, Il Divo, it’s a given that ideas and emotions will be as important here as the images.

What Sorrentino (who co-wrote the script with Umberto Contarello) and his team have created is a portrait of a country, a city and, most of all, a suave and unflappable man. That would be Jep Gambardella, Rome’s unofficial “king of the high life” and party chronicler without equal.

But we soon find out there is more to Jep than we initially understand. Forty years earlier he wrote a novel, The Human Apparatus, that was so perceptive people continue to ask him why he hasn’t written another.

The Great Beauty is too sophisticated a film to have Jep dissolve in a welter of regret. Immaculately turned out in a series of custom-tailored suits and dazzling sports coats, Jep continues to experience the pull of his accustomed world, but he starts to feel as well that he no longer wants to do things he doesn’t want to do.

More than that, after hearing some startling news that recalls his very first love affair, Jep starts to think about larger questions.

Adding a key element to Sorrentino’s world is his exceptional use of music, “an inevitable mix of the sacred and the profane, just as Rome famously is,” the director says.

Rome never looked more beautiful, and the acting ability of Servillo, who can do more with less than almost any actor going, makes this a personal journey well worth experiencing.

In Italian with English subtitles

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