Customer Reviews: The Great Beauty (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 26, 2013
"The Great Beauty" (Italian: La Grande Bellezza), directed by Paolo Sorrentino, is a lovely film, simultaneously self aware and unashamed in channeling several of the themes, stylistic flourishes and concerns previously identified with classic Italian films like "La Dolce Vita", "8 1/2", "L'Avventura" and so forth. It makes superb use of Rome in all its classical beauty as a location for mournful contemplations on lost youth, present life, pending mortality and the tribal malaise and pretenses of Rome's creative elite, all presented with lots of style and sizzle. How much a viewer finds the film to ultimately be either haunting and depressing or stimulating and entertaining may depend on how close to home the life concerns and reflections of the protagonist are to the viewer's own life.

The "La Dolce Vita" like story of dissipated Roman creative posers and party animals confronting middle age, lost promise, failure and mortality, as though Marcello Mastroianni had never managed to transcend the final scenes of "La Dolce Vita", and had just grown old where we last saw him, allows for some wicked insights into and comments on Roman artistic life and an Italian film genre that is best summarized as "We are surrounded by so much beauty and greatness from the past, but we can only create empty beauty because we lack greatness, and can never achieve it again, and are tormented by the language and symbols of Catholicism, and are twisted into knots and self negation by intellectualizing about modernity. What else can we do but party? And, of course, we are melancholy at the emptiness of it all...".

If the "The Great Beauty" has an over all insight, which is suggested by the introductory quote from Céline's "Journey to the End of the Night", it is that the characters have all, in ways big and small, succumbed to the delusion that they each can, through art and the intellectualized control of discourse and expression, control and master the illusion of life. Each character has been either broken, humbled or sobered by the effort, and has found that a great deal of what they could have enjoyed about the illusion has been lost to them in an effort to dominate it.

The protagonist, Jep Gambardella, a once promising author with only one book of intellectualized social commentary to his credit, published very early in his career, after which he has settled into a long languorous slide to middle age as a "journalist" reporter on the arts in Rome, is sympathetic in that he has begun to grasp this underlying truth, and is working to reconcile himself to it. Many other characters in the film seem to have settled into the sort of dour connoisseurship and bored hostility usually associated with vendors in a Parisian flea market.

The film abounds in vignettes and passing comments, many quite touching and some of them quite depressing, involving different characters who come and go from scene to scene, all pointing to the fury of now being held prisoner by the long shadow of the past. There is, for example, the elderly fallen aristocratic couple, living in the basement of their family's old palazzo, which is open to tourists to earn income, who rent themselves out as aristocratic dinner guests. On returning late at night from a party, where Jep had hired them to impersonate old rivals of their family, who were unavailable but whom Jep had wished to attend a dinner party at his apartment being held for a Mother Teresa like saint that Jep wishes to interview, the wife of the elderly couple slips into the old palazzo and inserts some coins into an audio guide and, sobbing, listens to an audio explanation of the palazzo and an idealized account of her life there as a child. And no Italian film aspiring to social comment would be complete without scenes that highlight the vanity and fallibility of the Catholic establishment.

Perhaps the most telling, and memorable, at least for this viewer, line in "The Great Beauty" is spoken by Jep's hapless friend Romano, a seemingly talentless creative striver continuously rejected by Roman elites and audiences and continuously working to launch a fresh assault on the mountaintop with a new project. Romano, who angrily criticizes the basis of his artistic rejection, while masochistically humiliating himself in pursuit of a beautiful woman who can barely stand speaking to him, finally wins some approval by giving a performance piece where he grovels to the audience that he is "ordinary". Momentarily heartened by the applause he receives, even though the woman he craves walks out of the show as soon as he has finished, he soon decides to quit Rome altogether.

He tells Jep of his brief success with the audience. Jep replies, with some genuine empathy for his friend, that it's wonderful that he received a positive response. But Romano tells Jep that he is leaving Rome, and returning to his small hometown, from whence he had come to Rome as a young man. "Rome has disappointed me", he tells Jep.

This is really the insight moment for the film. The inability of someone, and that someone is almost everyone, to question their own consciousness, to in any way question or blame their own essential nature for their life, or to question their choice of an environment for themselves, much like the choice of a lover, that is toxic for them. Each person thinks they can transcend their environment and normalize their own consciousness through verbal definitions and success. Failing to do so, they blame the environment, or their own lack of effort, rather than their own consciousness and its need, like a drug addict, for that environment, no matter how toxic it may be to and devastating for them personally. Many a failed love affair travels the same path.

Jep briefly considers that he too may have exhausted his life in Rome, and that he might return to where he came from, or go on to some where else. But, in the end, Jep's consciousness is Rome. He cannot leave what he is, or go back to something he was not. Jep has become his environment, no matter how empty its charms and denizens may have become for him. If he is disappointed in Rome, it is because he is disappointed in himself. The two are inseparable. He is haunted by "the great beauty" of a moment in youth when all seemed possible, if only through a then youthful ignorance of life and himself. He has no where to go now but onwards, an observer of his own essential nature.

The film's Fellini like cinematic touches, which run on a steroids throughout, are in many ways busy work, lacking the organic relationship to the characters and film making that the same devices had in so many Fellini films. The film could have been made with much less overt style and have lost none of its essential nature nor any of its story impact. That is in a way a tribute to the strength of its conception and to the talents involved.

All that said, the film is gorgeous. Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella is superb, the role of a lifetime for the actor, and all the casting and production are first rate. No other film since Fellini's has so captured the look, feel and vibe of Rome as both an open air museum and a grand movie set for the personal dramas and struggles of the creatively obsessed, jaded, cynical, malevolent and determined. The film plays like a wry dirge for an over ripe funeral procession. But it is a beautiful and, ultimately thoughtful reflection on the energy and openness of youth fading into a fragile but wise middle age. The place is intensely Rome The style is uniquely Italian, But the story is human and universal. RECOMMENDED.
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on January 17, 2014
I'm thrilled to see that Criterion Collection is releasing this film on disc so soon. I've seen it twice in the theater and it's one of the very best films I've ever seen. Not to be missed for anyone who appreciates Italian films, especially those by Fellini & Antonioni. Yes it contains many moments that reference La Dolce Vita, but as great as that film is, this one owes it no debt, it transcends La Dolce in many ways. On my first viewing I was swept away from start to finish. On second viewing the fragility of life and the poignancy of loss came to the fore. Amazing images and a great musical score.

The main character, Jep Gambardella, looked all his life for the great beauty but didn't find it. We get to see it everywhere around him.
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on January 25, 2014
The team of Toni Servillo in the lead role as the sybaritic critic and novelist (having only ever written one successful novel 20 years before) playing out the role of Jep Gambardella, one of the oldest swingers in Rome and directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino, have again hit pay-dirt. I hope like the previous "Il Divo" it achieves another Oscar nomination!!

At 135 minutes it is a movie that will either envelop you with its stunning visuals (right up to the end of the closing credits in fact) and intelligent script or leave you thinking it is way too long and over indulgent. Many of Sorrentino's normal trademarks are here - the use of different dance and music to great dramatic effect; beautifully composed visuals, though his continual use of tracking and crane shots can get a tad tiresome; a wide cast of strong supporting actors that serves Servillo's immaculately attired but tired and acerbic persona well; and, the story of a man having lived the high life being woken up to face his demons - but what lifts this film to a higher level is its love affair with Rome.

The use of locations and few studio sets (with some amazing use of animals for key scenes) shows off the beauty of Rome and its architecture to great effect. Top that with a story centered around the Italian wealthy who live and party in Rome has led inevitably to comparisons with La Dolce Vita of Fellini and Antonioni films of that era. But with little reference to the recent politics of Berlusconi and modern Italy this is an exploration of the current vacuousness of living within Rome's elites both in the Arts and interestingly the Church, given the Vatican's presence within Rome.

The script is razor sharp throughout. The outright or latent bitchiness on display, leads to many great one-liners or acidic exchanges. This is beautifully captured in a scene where he openly tears into a friend at a roof top party after she challenges him to disagree with her. His Svengali female midget magazine editor, pragmatic housekeeper, friends including the widowed husband of his early love and a blossoming relationship with a 40 year old stripper (a fine performance by Sabrina Ferilli), all add to the growing emptiness. This leads to Jep's encounters in the final section with a cardinal in line to be pope who is happier espousing food recipes over religious advice and a Mother Theresa clone from Africa whose simple life of piety and suffering contrasts so dramatically with Jep's.

Many reviews of this film seem to still pine for the New Wave Italian cinema of the 60s - this latest opus from Sorrentino and Servillo shows for me Italian cinema is very much alive and well in the 21st century!
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This is the most nostalgic Italian film since the times of Giuseppe Tornatore's Baaria. Gepp is writer who is living his autumnal ages, and so he explores with farewelll taste all those places, faces , friends, girls that accompanied him sometime but that actually are gone or like him have grown old.

"Roma has let me down" says one of his fellow friends. The journey into the night is filled with reminsicent metaphors that calls us back to La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Roma and even Last year in Mariembad. The main character is closer to GianCarlo Gianini than Marcello. He walks, talks and reflects about his passions, hobbies, missing romances and how the actual world has lost part of the charm of his youth years.

Of course, there are cynical observations about the banality of society (even the Roman church is not absent).

The photography is admirable and talks by itself. And brilliant sequences that illustrate the state of despair and agonic loneliness (Giraffe's missing, for instance).

A film that highlights above the average. Good cast and magnificent custome design.

I have a presentiment. I guess this picture will win the Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 11, 2014
There may be spoilers.

This award winning film from Italy ("La Grande Bellezza") provides a gorgeous look at Rome in all it beauty and decadence in equal measure. Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is a charming, sophisticated and attractive 65 year old man looking at retirement. He is best known for a novel he wrote decades earlier. His one and only book. Since then he's been living the high life while making regular contributions to a magazine. His circle of friends are seemingly and similarly concerned only about the next dinner party or garden gabfests.

As Jep looks back at his life, he wonders if he missed the boat. He has no family. His one true love was a girl he met when he first arrived in Rome at the age of 26. He discovers that she recently died and he incurs flashbacks of their short time together. Romantic, wistful and sad. Brilliantly directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino, the film has a Felliniesqe feel and has striking similarities to "La Dolce Vita."

The silly extravagance is shown is several scenes of unusual art. One involves performance art where a naked woman runs into a wall with her head. Another has a pubescent girl provoked into anger by her father. She then begins to toss cans of paint at a huge wall of canvass, creating a work of art worth millions of dollars. One of my favorite scenes has Jep visiting a middle age acquaintance who has a large villa with a courtyard that displays photos taken every day of his life. A remarkable idea.

I found the film terribly profound as I look back on life and wonder "Is that all there is?" echoing the Leiber and Stoller classic song. The film won a well-deserved Oscar and Golden Globe for best foreign language film earlier this year. Technically the film is a wonder as well. Highly recommended.

The Blu ray version I watched was from Criterion, and to no surprise it is beautiful. It comes with a 1080p resolution and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Here are some of their comments regarding the transfer:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The film features a fully digital soundtrack. The 5.1 surround audio for this release was mastered in 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.
Colorist: Andrea Orsini/Technicolor, Rome."

The film is stunning to look at including the nighttime scenes. Demo quality. Likewise the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a stunner. The only option is Italian, but English subtitles are available. The lossless track is well focused and very easy to follow. The musical score is excellent (Lele Marchitelli) and comes across perfectly. Here are the extra features:

*Conversation between Sorrentino and Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda
*New interview with actor Toni Servillo
*New interview with screenwriter Umberto Contarello
*Deleted Scenes
*A booklet featuring an essay by critic Philip Lopate
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on January 29, 2016
The wonderful cinematography of The Great Beauty is worthy of its classical setting - and the film is more unified than it might seem after the first viewing. Performance art and magic acts are well-placed in its structure, and suit its central theme: the creation of illusions. Everything is theatre, and there is satyr's joy in satire. The Colliseum looms large in the view from Jep Gambardella's apartment - now a mockery of its ruined self, where life itself was mocked and ruined. Jep sees virtue in being conscious of his own falseness, as when he lectures his beautiful younger friend on how to act at a funeral, and repeats his words precisely at the occasion - but then shows a glimpse of unplanned emotion. So we come to the great beauty of art. Dolly shots are plentiful and nicely paced. A skewed stairway shot avoids cliches. The lighting ranges from excellent to magical, as in the nighttime tour of palatial art treasures. Tony Servillo was excellent as Jep, and the rest of the cast was wonderfully supportive, as if they were enjoying a great party. In this crazy life, it is such a pleasure to play one's part well!
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on February 28, 2014
This was worth watching for the sheer delight and surprise of seeing Catherine Deneuve in a fleeting cameo. Like Rome itself, she is still "la grande belleza"! Though flawed and annoying in many places, I really liked this movie overall.
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on July 15, 2014
This film evokes the memories of everyday existence but also the magical enjoyment of life in such a joyous way that Italian culture fully understands. When you step outside of main stream cinema you remember that the conscious and unconscious space in which we live in everyday can be unfocused the memories fragmented and fleeting; not hammered or explained away in a linear predictable story line.

This film takes that path, and even though I get a bit tired with late middle aged men philosophizing their life and objectifying women -which does go on in this film it was also a real reflection of the main character with no apologies or political correctness -it was life as it is for this character and his relationship to Rome.

It is a great film I was mesmerized!
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on March 4, 2014
This is both a dizzying portrait of Rome, and a dreamlike (justly "Fellini-esque") character study.

Jep Gambardella (played brilliantly by Toni Servillo) is a man who once wrote a prize-winning novel. Now at age sixty-five he finds himself still wavering between his twin attractions: to the spiritual and to the carnal. He is happy but somehow unengaged with anything outside his own impressions: a charming dilettante, going to wild (or pretentious) parties, having lovers, wandering Rome, looking for "The Great Beauty." He longs for eternal meaning, and the transcendent, but smirks at it too. He is always almost ready to undergo a spiritual conversion, but he has to stop to savor a moment of poetic sensual beauty, or share a wicked in-joke. Near the end, trying to recapture the memory of a moment with a lost love, he names the disappointing truth, that maybe Beauty is a conjuror's "trick." He always maintains the novelist's prerogative to stand outside life, and this ability both liberates and traps him...

This film has moments of poetry that will shake up your brain. Film devotees MUST see it.

(Note: for adult audiences)
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on March 13, 2016
I love this movie. The sound track is superb and effective at creating mood. In the opening scene, there is a chorus performing. The Great Beauty has a touch of the musical.

Spoiler alert, I have watched it a few times. I know the scenes, the characters and I understand the film. I love how the music of the next scene starts at the end of the previous one. The continuity and editing, wonderful.

Hard to believe Jep would fall for Romana. She was too naive and intellectually dense. Jep was all about intellectualism, abstract thinking, analysis. This woman was far too earthy and self absorbed, eventually we find out she is quite ill. Both characters blossomed through this short romance and at the end they may have been in love. Romano was pivotal to Jep's transformation, her departure forced him to go alone, investigate his past and find clarity.

I understand how someone would see The Great Beauty and say, what? It defines the attitude of Romans, but if you do not have this knowledge it might be difficult to understand this without having lived in Rome or having this knowledge first hand. It is an Italian thing but it is particular to this city and to this Roman "type". The clubs, the money, the ennui.

The Saint and the dwarf boss were the only two women, both deformed in the physical, who were confident, focused and successful. The other female characters were all beautiful but lost, searching. This made fun of the Italian obsession of the beautiful woman and how feminine beauty is adored in Rome.

Then there is the backdrop, the beauty of Rome itself. Frankly I feel there was not enough of it, there is so much to see. The film does capture the astounding light and shade, the color of the sunset against the buildings, it successfully defines the Roman attitude. The grim stuff, with any urban landscape, is cleanly edited.

While The Great Beauty appears to be about attitude and appearances I believe it is about hope and transformation for the artist and the liberation of the individual. The self, willing to face the journey alone, transcends all.
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