Arts and Entertainment Rome sweet Rome: Tony Servillo in 'The Great Beauty'

From its delirious opening montage of disco divas, ageing socialites and strippers at play – one imagines Berlusconi's bunga bunga in a nutshell – Paolo Sorrentino's Roman satire has its sights fixed on epic greatness. There's a touch of La Dolce Vita in its fluid portrait of the city as carnival, with its parade of nuns, tourists, freaks, hangers-on, performance artists and other jokers. It is overseen by the dapper, disenchanted Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a journalist who once wrote a great novel but is now more famous for his roof-terrace parties and languid cynicism. The haute bourgeoisie circles Jep moves in turn a blind eye and a Botoxed pout to the depressed, debased society around them, preferring to dance themselves dizzy and drink themselves silly. (Sample dialogue: "What job do you do?" "Me? I'm rich". "Great job"). Nor is there any recourse to religion when Vatican prelates offer not spiritual succour but top cooking tips.

Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, By Andrew Graham-Dixon

Although others have debunked various myths about Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel (the most popular probably being the belief that he did it lying down), Graham-Dixon does no harm to his excellent, accessible but always intelligent telling of the story by repeating such myths for those who maybe haven't heard them.

Tom Sutcliffe: Would Michelangelo get the nod?

The Week In Culture

Last Night's Television: Orangutan Diary, BBC2<br />Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's, BBC4

The titles for Orangutan Diary freeze on an image that is a perfect emblem of its seductive appeal: a small hairy hand clutching dependently at a human arm. That, at one level, is what primates mean to us, however big and muscular they become. We see them, thanks to a broad misreading of Darwin, as ourselves in infancy, and when they're brought into conjunction with human clothing or human objects, our familial (and faintly condescending fondness) is amplified. When the primates are actually infants, even the sternest rationalists are likely to find themselves melting into a puddle of anthropomorphic sentiment. Orangutan Diary contains images of such concentrated cuteness that they should probably read out one of those warning statements at the beginning, alerting particularly susceptible viewers that it contains "extreme scenes of winsomeness from the beginning". When they wheeled on a wheelbarrow full of baby orang-utans in disposable nappies, you could probably hear the audience reaction coming through the window, a strange collective moo of delight.

British film tipped to take Berlin Film Festival by storm

Jude Law in drag and Dame Judi Dench as a cynical fashionista are among the stars of a new British film tipped to be the talking point of the Berlin Film Festival. With a cast including Eddie Izzard, Steve Buscemi and model Lily Cole, Rage, by London-based writer-director Sally Potter, plays in competition on Sunday and promises a pithy critique of the fashion industry in the age of globalisation.

First Impressions: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)

The word for The Da Vinci Code is a rare invertible palindrome. Rotated 180 degrees on a horizontal axis so that it is upside down, it denotes the maternal essence that is sometimes linked to the sport of soccer. Read right side up, it concisely conveys the kind of extreme enthusiasm with which this riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilaratingly brainy thriller can be recommended.

The Sinister Side, By James Hall

A guide to left and right that's often dextrous and occasionally sinister

Tilda Swinton: 'I'm not interested in acting skills'

Tilda Swinton has never tried to fit in. She wins Oscars but describes her work as 'clowning'. She flits from obscure indie films to Hollywood blockbusters. And then there's her 'scandalous' love life...Jonathan Romney meets a British actress with attitude

The Weasel: Goodbye to all that

In their picturesque way, the French refer to orgasm as La Petite Mort. The same term could apply to the termination of a column, though the experience is not quite as pleasant. From an account of being snowed-in at Yorkshire, which appeared on 30 December 1995, to last week's tale of being penalised by H M Customs & Excise for importing an anthology of ancient gospel music, the Weasel has been my outlet for 12 years of vicissitudes. They ranged from a near-death experience in 2005 when a bunch of "arty boneheads" marched me at dead of night to the top of a Cumbrian fell for a chat with Ken Russell (he had left by the time we arrived) to a terrifying ride on a breakneck Big Wheel in the Tuileries Gardens in 1997. "Whataniceview," I repeated in an anguished mantra. "NotreDame-LesInvalides-EiffelTower." But Mrs W had her eyes tight shut.

Caravaggio: Cardsharps (1595)

In a picture, all sights are fixed. Whatever's blocked from view, or turned away from view, is stuck that way. Nothing the viewer can do, nothing the picture can do, will show more, or less, of anything. But the limits of an art can be its powers.

My Secret Life: Mark Strong, Actor, age 45

The home I grew up in... was a flat in Middleton Square in London's Islington, a beautiful Georgian square with a huge church in the middle. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I remember flats in Walthamstow, Clapton, Stoke Newington and Edmonton, as well.

Florence

Europe's capital of Renaissance art is a great weekend break destination in late summer &ndash; and the fine Italian food on offer will fuel your quest for cultural nourishment

Pont: The British Character (1936)

Cartoons are generally a critic-free zone. They're designed to speak for themselves, and most people can get the point without assistance. All the critic can do, it seems, is analyse the joke to death. But let's not be deterred. Let's take a great cartoon, and see what can be done. This year it's the birth-centenary of the cartoonist Pont, who flourished in Punch in the 1930s. There's a show of his work at the Cartoon Museum in London.

Sistine set-up: the 500-year-old art mystery

Jealous rivals plotted in vain to humiliate Michelangelo. Alistair Fraser uncovers a 500-year-old art world mystery

Rome, sweet Rome

Make yourself at home in the villas where popes and painters flourished, says James Hill

de la Tour, Georges: The Fortune Teller (c1630)

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Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us