The Great Beauty

In a giant loft apartment in central Rome, a wild party rages on all night long – it’s Jep Gambardella’s (Toni Servillo) 65th birthday. Jep is the symbol of Roman decadence. In the footsteps of the Jesuits and the Medicis, he knows more about people’s lives than he should and enjoys his influence in the marble gardens of the capital like some autocrat of old. Yet this birthday constitutes a symbolic confrontation with mortality that sends Jep (and us, along with him) on a dream-like tour of Rome’s past and present through Jep’s memories, passions and crumbled dreams.

“Great Beauty” is too aristocratic to deign to adhere to any kind of narrative structure. Instead it offers us a whirlwind adventure that cuts through time and space gallantly, as if through a fine Parma ham. Anyone familiar with Fellini knows how sometimes one must simply surrender to the film-maker’s whims. Whereas Fellini wrote love letters to Rome, Paolo Sorrentino is preoccupied with the decay of the ages that have been deposited under the gilded superficies. This film is at once an ode and an elegy to Rome.

Paolo Sorrentino turned 43 this year and he has now given us his finest film. Is he also gripped by thought of mortality, like Jep? Perhaps it is a valuable thing for anyone of us to be reminded of our time and place by the rustle of the reaper?

Tristan Priimägi