"I was destined for sensibility. I was destined to become a writer. I was destined to become Jep Gambardella."
It seems director Paolo Sorrentino has become destined to evoke Fellini's work in La Dolce Vita with his skillful direction in La Grande Bellezza, and for many critics it's become one of the best films of the year. Unfortunately this film didn't work for me considering I'm not a huge fan of surrealism nor style over substance. Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful and ambitious film that captures the artistic spirit of Rome with poetic imagery through musical set pieces. The film gives its audience a series of sensations and feelings, but it didn't feel cohesive for me. I found The Great Beauty overlong and dull. Despite engaging me with its visuals during the opening party sequence, eventually the movie wore down on me. There are some touches of comedy here and there as we follow the main protagonist's quest to finding the beauty and meaning of life. Despite the gorgeous set pieces and poetic symbolisms thrown all over the place, the journey wasn't worth taking for me considering I had a hard time relating to the main character. I know I may lose a lot of friends for not liking this film, but just as the pretentious and snobbish artists that hung around with Jep, I felt the film was exactly that: pretentious and snobbish. I didn't find any substance to the film other than the gorgeous style so I am sorry but I can't lie, this film didn't work for me.
The film opens with a few Asian tourists visiting Rome and admiring its beauty and all of a sudden one of them dies. The film then jumps right away to a party where we are introduced to a successful journalist named Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo, Il Divo and Gomorrah) who is celebrating his 65th birthday. He considers himself a sensitive man and that is what allowed him to perceive the world differently from the rest and inspire him to become a writer. He has become a legend in Rome for writing a very popular and Award winning novel several decades ago, but since then he hasn't written any more novels and dedicates himself almost exclusively to the night life of Rome. However his life takes an unexpected turn when he receives some terrible news from the past: the first woman he actually loved passed away. All of a sudden Jep begins questioning his life and decides to search for the true beauty after realizing the emptiness behind all the extravagant parties he's thrown.
I guess I'm not a reliable source when it comes to these sort of surrealist films considering I'm not a fan of the genre. I won't deny this was gorgeously directed and that the set pieces were marvelous, but I really found it to have little substance. It was self indulgent and blah blah with very little actually going on. I didn't find the film to be philosophical either, the final revelation near the end is something we've heard very often so sticking with this man's journey didn't have any reward for me personally. The film does succeed however in showing the excesses and portraying wasted talents thanks to hedonistic lifestyles. I know I'm one of the few people who didn't like this film, so don't pay attention to me and experience this ode to La Dolce Vita for yourself.