Some times I watch a movie and a few days later I realize I haven't written anything about it because I have nothing to say. This isn't the case with The Great Beauty, which I watched a few days ago but haven't made any comments on it yet. The Great Beauty is lovely in ways that I find hard to articulate. It reminds me of other films, but it's very much its own movie.
This is the second Paolo Sorrentino film I have watched recently, the other being The Hand of God (I also liked Il Divo). The films look beautiful (the cinematographer here is Luca Bigazzi, who also did Il Divo). To my untrained eye (I've never been to Italy), Sorrentino's movies feel authentic to what I imagine is Italy, as a country, as a culture, and even as something affected by geography (north and south are not the same). I read many comments comparing The Great Beauty to Fellini's work, and I can see that. There is a cross-section of humanity, albeit more interested in the upper-and-upper-middle classes. I often find Fellini too absorbed in what comes across in his films as freakish people, but Sorrentino doesn't fall victim to that. At some level, he likes most of his characters here, and the one time someone is dressed down, it's because they don't accept the bemused fatalism of the main character, Jep, and his friends:
You're 53, with a life in tatters, like the rest of us. Instead of acting superior and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We're all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little.
Sorrentino has affection. There are some similarities to La Dolce Vita, and The Great Beauty would make a good, if long, double-bill with Fellini's classic. Of course, The Great Beauty comes later ... it's partly a commentary of the earlier film. I imagine Sorrentino has affection for Fellini's characters, too. For me, The Great Beauty is kind but unsparing, as the above quote suggests ... on the brink of despair, always with a little joke.
Toni Servillo is Jep, and without him, the movie would suffer greatly. I'm liking him more every time I see him. With The Hand of God, I noted the wonderful performance by Luisa Ranieri as middle-aged woman who carries an intense aura of sexuality and a troubled emotional background. Sorrentino repeats this with The Great Beauty, this time with Sabrina Ferilli, new to me but not to the world of Italian cinema. She isn't as troubled as Ranieri's characters ... she seems to be in something of the same place with Jep. She is a well-drawn character, and Ferilli does her justice. #151 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.