Some movies come barreling out of their caves like armies on the sociocultural warpath, self-consciously defining themselves as psychographic events, marking The Way Things Are Now and becoming part of history in the process. Given the ambition, we should embrace these rare explosions when they happen, even more so now perhaps than in the ’60s, when such filmmaking hubris was thick on the ground. Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty blasts off from its very first plunge into the social stew of contemporary Rome, conscientiously reinventing Fellini’s La Dolce Vita for the 21st century and nailing the city’s chattering leisure class to the wall for all time. There’s little sense in trying to resist the film’s relentless party vibe, its tumultuous visual banquet, its switchblade satire, its fools’ parade of modern grotesques, or its river of startling melancholy, turning from a wary trickle to a flash flood by film’s end. Sorrentino’s vision is the size of Rome itself, and his confidence is dazzling. Our guide through this everything-old-is-new-and-old-again orgy, Jep (Italian everyman Toni Servillo), is a classic high-society pilot fish, a writer with an inflated reputation most concerned with staying up all night at the right parties. Jep is the New Decadent, wading through a human sea of fakers, scammers, agents, salesmen, wastrels, trophy whores, and aristo-narcissists, characters Sorrentino sketches in quick, vivid swatches and yet somehow imbues with sadness and loss, even as they’re conga-lining around the swimming pool or settling in for a ceremonial Botox-injection party. So rambunctious and densely inhabited it’s a movie you visit, not merely watch, The Great Beauty is also one of the greatest films about modern social dissolution.
Paolo SorrentinoToni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte, Pamela Villoresi, Galatea Ranzi, Franco Graziosi, Giorgio Pasotti, Massimo PopolizioPaolo SorrentinoNicola Giuliano, Francesca CimaJanus Films