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.
Just below the surface of Jep's studied ennui there seems to lie a suspicion that the immemorial beauty of Rome somehow deserves better citizens to honour it. Shot in gorgeous Caravaggio tones by Luca Bigazzi, The Great Beauty is de luxe filmmaking. It is a great city movie which, at times, comes close to being a masterpiece. Where it falls just short is in its lack of narrative drive: a film of this length (140 mins) needs at least a sliver of plot to pull it all together. It's hugely enjoyable, all the same, with a closing credit sequence as understated as its opening is raucous.
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