The Great Beauty Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“I was destined to be a sensitive type. I was destined to become a writer. I was destined to become Jep Gambardella.”
Those words are spoken by—yes—Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo, who is ten years younger than his character but looks that much older), who is—yes—a writer. Or was. He wrote one novel in his twenties, which he’s used to support a life of extravagance. He loves women and smoking and booze and parties and the spotlight and all of the wonderfully lavish things that surround him. As the movie opens, Jep is celebrating his 65th birthday, which turns out to be a milestone.
When the dancing is over and the scene has cleared, Jep takes to his balcony, which overlooks the Colosseum. There might have been a time when such a view of the ancient architectural masterpiece got his attention. Now, he just stares off and sips his drink. It’s about this time that Jep realizes she should start taking notice again.
THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA) is about Jep’s enlightenment and transformation as much as it is about acknowledging the significant things before it’s too late. The story may be set in Rome—which the film is quick to point out doesn’t exactly look and feel the same as it once did—but the ideas are universal. How often do we get caught up in something for so long that we fail to see and appreciate what is truly worth it? How many have passed the point of too late? As Jep says early on, “I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do.”
THE GREAT BEAUTY has the feel of a Federico Fellini film—namely LA DOLCE VITA, which followed a paparazzo played by Marcello Mastroianni through his adventures in Rome and had a fairly similar structure to it. Said structure seems fit, but it often feels like the film meanders and gets distracted when it should be expanding on its world.
The director is Paolo Sorrentino, whose IL DIVO won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Sorrentino, whose other credits include 2011’s THIS MUST BE THE PLACE and 2006’s THE FAMILY FUED, has a wonderful vision, and flawlessly switches the mood between slickness to carefulness, depending on whether the scene is meant to feel elaborate or lonely. (Credit should also go to cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, who previously worked with directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Silvio Soldini.)
Servillo is a terrific actor that has been appearing in films since the early ‘90s, picking up a number of awards that are likely alien to audiences outside of Italy. But here is a performance that is so rich that it should catch the eye of anyone. It is a layered turn in which the actor successfully portrays a man who clings to the past and yet lets so much of it slip by.
THE GREAT BEAUTY won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Italian film to do so since Roberto Benigni’s LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998).
THE GREAT BEAUTY CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.”
Approved by director Paolo Sorrentino, this transfer boasts all of the vibrancy and colors that cinematographer Luca Bigazzi captured through his lens. This is a spectacular-looking high-definition presentation, with lush visuals and stunning detail throughout.
Audio: Italian 5.1 Surround Sound. Subtitles in English. “The film features a fully digital soundtrack. The 5.1 surround audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.”
The audio transfer is also top-notch, with clean Italian dialogue, atmospheric effects (particularly during exterior and club scenes) and a wonderful Lele Marchitelli score.
Paolo Sorrentino (37:59): Director Sorrentino sits down with film scholar Antonio Monda to discuss his career, with emphasis on THE GREAT BEAUTY.
Toni Servillo (12:35): Actor Servillo sheds light on his collaborations with Sorrentino, which also include IL DIVO and ONE MAN UP.
Umberto Contarello (11:44): Co-screenwriter Contarello shares his thoughts on working with Sorrentino and creating the main character.
Deleted Scenes: There are two here: “Maestro Cinema” (2:45) and “Montage” (2:15).
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 24-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.