“Jep Gambardella” (Toni Servillo) is a voyeur, flaneur gliding through life, observing, perpetually longing for “the great beauty” to accost him; a muse of inspiration capable of igniting the creative transformation he yearns for.
Director Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to glorious Rome, its hedonistic lifestyle, commences with “Jep’s” sixty-fifth birthday party; freakishly beautiful members of Rome’s elite, sinuously writhing, frenetically dancing on Jep’s rooftop terrace overlooking the Coliseum; devastatingly handsome, imperially slim Jep watches with a drink in hand and a cigarette, at times precariously dangling from his smirking, perfect lips, eventually joins the dervish pack. Jep, whose sole accomplishment is a book (“The Human Apparatus”) written 40 years ago, floats through life and the streets of Rome searching for the unexpected amidst the expected. His vision chronicles Rome’s ancient heritage, contemporary bar scene, the tranquility and monumentality of the Tiber River. His dream of becoming Rome’s “king of high life” has been realized; but vacant of the “beauty” he quests. Untouchable, he records, references, rarely initiates; his soul, imbued with melancholy, is achingly naive, pure.
Jep’s unflappable, debonair, nocturnal lifestyle is fractured when he learns of the death of his first love; poignant, reverential flashbacks, shatter Jep’s nonchalant, savoir faire facade; recognizing the ephemeral essence of existence; introspection leads to religion; an agile, toothless, centenarian nun, destined for sainthood, piques his curiosity; he frequents “happenings”, recalling artistic movements of the 60’s, one profound scene of a young girl throwing cans of paint on a canvas, we watch in wonder as slowly, amazingly the girl and her creation become one.
Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” reminiscent of inimitable filmmaker Federico Fellini’s halcyon films, “La Dolce Vita” and “Juliet of the Sprits”; reviving and prancing down long dormant avenues, memories of avant garde films, made during the turbulent 60’s; Sorrentino strokes Rome and Jep with a graceful, venerate camera; quiet elegance and dignity inform a narrative simultaneously sacred and alive.
“The Great Beauty” is a luscious, awesome portrait of a city and a man; a marriage, pristine partnership “until death do them part”.