The Great Beauty: Movie Review

I’m Italian but I live abroad and every time somebody starts talking about cinema, people look at me and says something about Paolo Sorrentino and The Great Beauty. Until yesterday, I could only respond with an embarrassed smile, as I hadn’t seen that 2013 movie. Now that I’ve seen it, well… I don’t know if I can write it, being Italian and a cinema lover, but I didn’t like it very much. Let me explain.

First of all, let me specify that I haven’t seen the director’s cut lasting two hours and 52 minutes. I saw the theatrical cut which is just two hours and 20 minutes long. Despite that, I found that the movie dragged a lot, so much so that I would have gladly cut at least 40 minutes. Actually, it would be easy to do since the film is a series of random scenes one after the other with no real order, no story arc, and no characters’ development whatsoever. And it’s probably intentional! Let me quote Mr. Sorrentino himself:

The film contains a subtext on the fatigue of living experienced by certain individuals whose existence is devoid of planning. This concept could best be rendered with an exhausting length.

Exhausting. I mean, the director knows that he made a grueling film to watch, and in fact this perfectly summarizes my experience, I barely made it to the end of the viewing without falling asleep. Also, I wouldn’t call what he mentions in his statement a subtext: it’s literally the only theme of the whole movie! Scene after scene, Sorrentino shows us the emptiness of a Roman elite made up of horrid, stupid, and false people filled with botox, and fake intellectuals who spend their time between a party and a contemporary art performance (the one of the little girl throwing buckets of paint is particularly disturbing) propelled by cocaine and alcohol.

All these characters have been successful in some way in the past, although even their glorious days are as empty as their current lives: there are former television stars, a writer whose success is rooted in her militancy in a certain political party, a writer who only wrote one book in the last 30 years

So, perhaps the lack of a real story is a clever parallel to the lack of the protagonists’ personal stories. There’s a problem, though: I may be able to endure a film without an actual story for a limited amount of time, but not for more than two hours! The Great Beauty gave me the feeling of watching a series of unrelated scenes full of people I don’t know anything about and that I don’t care about, and this bored me to death.

And of course Rome is beautiful in this film. Framed by a sinuous camera that never stops and well photographed by Luca Bigazzi, the Eternal City really shines in every scene. Not his elite, which, as I already wrote, is empty and stupid in the eyes of Sorrentino who, presumably, is part of that same elite. And the same goes for many of the actors he used in this work such as Carlo Verdone (who plays perhaps the most positive character in the entire film, a pathetic man who’s not so full of himself) and Sabrina Ferilli, to name just a couple.

But let’s try to sketch the plot: Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a 65 years old failed writer and successful journalist. He’s tired of the inadequacy of the Roman dolce vita (there are many references to cinematic masterpieces of the past, although I struggled to find their meaning within the movie anyway), and after an enlightening encounter with a centenary nun, he understands how to rediscover the joy of living. I think that the finale is nothing short of dumb, with its holy nun (Giusi Merli) and the unwatchable CGI animals. And in any case this story could have easily been told in an hour and a half, and it could even have been a good movie.

But two hours and a half / three hours, come on… thank goodness I don’t have the full version on Bluray! I also saw Youth (2015) at the cinema, I didn’t like The Great Beauty, so I’m probably glad that I didn’t watch Loro (2018)! Anyway, the film has been a smash hit all over the world, so maybe I didn’t understand it and, therefore, didn’t appreciate it. Ciao!

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6 risposte a "The Great Beauty: Movie Review"

  1. Sam. Me ha encantado la honestidad de tu reseña. Y el que hables abiertamente de que no te haya gustado nada una película muy valorada, en general, por el cinéfilo y la crítica cinematográfica. Bravo. Aunque, eso sí, no puedo compartir tu opinión. A mí me encantó. La vi hace años en el cine y salí embelesado. Pero eso es lo genial del arte. La disparidad de sensaciones y de opiniones. Gracias por tu blog. Un saludo. Felipe.

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    1. Gracias como siempre a ti por pasar por aquí! :–)

      La verdad es que me da más gusto escribir sobre pelis que me han gustado, pero esta vez estaba bastante curioso de ver la reacción de los bloggers a mi opinión negativa de esta peli de Sorrentino y es interesante ver como los italianos están divididos (incluso hay más gente que tiene una opinión parecida a la mía!) mientras a los extranjeros les encanta La grande bellezza. Me llama mucho la atención, pero a veces pasa que una peli sea más amada fuera de su país que en su tierra!

      Y claro, es chulo que cada uno pueda pensar de manera diferente y que podamos hablarlo y confrontarnos! W el arte!!! :–)

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  2. Isn’t this interesting! I remember being taught in craft of fiction class that our job as writers is to portray (in this case) boredom on the part of characters without boring the reader. And if the end result is that readers are bored to tears, we’ve not done our job properly!

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  3. I agree, totally. Although, I can stand three or four hours in a theatre if the movie finds a purpose in each and every minute it had to unravel on the screen. That’s what the Great Beauty misses, you could easily erase 40 minutes of it, as you said, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing in terms of plot and meaning: it would have said the same thing. It’s redundant, avoidably excessive in certain scenes – why the flamingos? What about its sudden tackling of the religious side of Rome when it already studied it in its depiction of the Eternal City and its implicit spirituality. Sorrentino wanted it to be an exhausting experience, but to me if you want to make the viewer understand a specific message, trend or unexisting plot, you don’t necessarily have to force that same feeling shown in the characters to those who are watching. I recognize this is a personal opinion, everyone has his or her idea of cinema, but I’m pretty sure I am galaxies away from the one Sorrentino has.

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    1. Oh yes, I have nothing against longer-than-average movies, as long as they are good ones! But this one… you could shuffle all the scenes at random and it wouldn’t affect the quality of the movie!

      The flamingos are probably some kind of symbolism that totally escaped me, I guess… :–D

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