We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
It's both frustrating and exciting to see Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino persistently compared to Federico Fellini. The comparison is warranted, to an extent. Like Fellini, Sorrentino ("This Must Be the Place," "The Consequences of Love") has a baroque and immersive style. He also has a carnivalesque/sideshow sense of humor: his new film "The Great Beauty" features, amongst other things, a self-described "dwarf" and a nun with two crooked teeth. Also like Fellini, Sorrentino's fascinated by contemporary society's obsession with looking young and energetic.
"Beauty" can be read as an update of "La Dolce Vita," but while it is definitely Fellini-esque, it's also a crystallization of Sorrentino's own distinctive style. This 43-year-old filmmaker is a major talent. Though he may not be the second coming of Fellini, his films all have a funny, refreshingly complex perspective, and his latest work is a perfect example of why he is the next big Italian thing.
"The Great Beauty" is a character study that presents contemporary Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella (the brilliant Toni Servillo), a simultaneously overstimulated and underwhelmed taste-making intellectual. Jep is a writer, though he doesn't really write. His first and only novella disappeared into obscurity. He spends his time performing as a public figure, a fixture of the city. He wants to remain young and important for as long as he can (he's 65), so he uses botox. But he also mocks anyone who makes vague, pseudo-intellectual claims about ethics, art, and staying young.
On a basic level, Jep recognizes in himself everything that's provincial and ugly about Rome. But through bon mots and helpless smirks, he breezes through life, looking for an elusive source of inspiration. He seems to find it in Ramona (Sabrina Ferili), a whip-smart stripper, but their romance is insubstantial. "The Great Beauty" is Jep's show. He's clever enough to know what his problems are, but not ready to solve them yet.