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Toni Servillo stars as Jep, a one-time novelist who enjoys Rome's luxe life, in "The Great Beauty." Courtesy Janus Films
Movie review: Rome is eternal, and paradoxical, in ‘The Great Beauty’
Review » Soulful comedy-drama takes on Italy’s idle rich.
First Published Jan 09 2014 03:01 pm • Last Updated Jan 09 2014 03:01 pm

In his sumptuous comedy-drama "The Great Beauty," director Paolo Sorrentino captures a place — Rome — and a particular feeling: the idea that the party’s over, but nobody has informed the guests.

The one guest who is starting to figure this out is the writer Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo, who starred in Sorrentino’s political drama "Il Divo"). Jep has been riding the success of his only novel for four decades — and spending the intervening time going to the hippest parties, romancing the finest women and writing the occasional interview with vapid celebrities and pretentious artists.

At a glance


‘The Great Beauty’

An aged writer tours his city, Rome, exposing its pretensions and admiring its greatness.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When » Opens Friday, Jan. 10.

Rating » Not rated, but probably R for nudity and sexual content.

Running time » 142 minutes; in Italian with subtitles.

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But, at 65, Jep’s beginning to see how empty it all is. He starts reconsidering his shallow friendships, tearing apart the snobby Stefania (Galatea Ranzi) over her hypocrisies at a dinner party. He gets bored with the same avant-garde performance-art nonsense, picking apart one artist’s babble about "vibrations." And he starts subverting the system, such as when he brings a stripper friend (Sabrina Ferilli) to a glitzy party for Rome’s idle rich.

As Jep walks around the town, Sorrentino shows us two visions of Rome, both fascinating and lush. One is the sparkle of the glitterati, which looks like what would have resulted if Federico Fellini had ever met the Kardashians. The other is the eternal Rome: the city of marble statues, Catholic iconography and passionate people.

Servillo’s Jep turns out to be the perfect tour guide for this trip. He points out the ironies of the preening party animals, and with an equally observant eye notices the hidden beauties of his gorgeous, decaying Rome. He also meets the most unusual people, from a cooking-obsessed cardinal to a diminutive editor who looks for all the world like the personification of "The Incredibles’ " Edna Mode.

Sorrentino — who recently explored America in his loopy "This Must Be the Place" — beautifully captures the paradoxes of Rome, a place where the sacred and the profane wave to each other across the piazza. He makes "The Great Beauty" a feast for the eyes that also warms the heart.


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