I’m not entirely sure I can do The Great Beauty justice – it’s one of those films that has a grandness that you can’t quite put into words. A complete joy: beautiful, melancholic, sensual – and funny.
Paolo Sorrentino’s film really is something special. On the face of it, the reminiscences of a man, Jep Gambardella, whose life has been filled with success: a glamorous career in journalism, beautiful women and extravagant parties – but who is aging alone. Scratch the surface and you see that the real Great Beauty is Berlusconi’s Rome, a mix of faded glamour and something slightly creepy and unpleasant. With a bad wig. We’re treated to soaring images of a city which is aging rather more gracefully than its inhabitants, creeping silently along its streets and peeking into hidden corners, getting a glimpse of things you don’t notice when you’re among a gush of tourists. And the music too is beautiful, from the clear, simple voices of choir in the first scene to glorious Beatitudes that accompany the closing credits, it’s perfect. I instantly came home and spotified it. If that’s a verb.
Toni Servillo is the perfect Jep, looking for reassurance that he hasn’t wasted his life partying and troubled to hear his first love never truly got over him. He’s a success to the hangers on that flock to his parties, but deep down Jep knows you only really succeed in life if you can match up to your own expectations.
I have to admit, about halfway through I was starting to wonder if there would be much of a point beyond a series of frankly quite stunning vignettes. Then suddenly, after a particularly poignant moment (‘Who will look after you now?’), I realised tears were streaming down my face and that I had been wholly sucked in. So much so that like nearly everyone in the cinema, I was pinned to my seat until the lights came on.
Almost entirely perfect.