As film critics at The New York Times weigh in on “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far,” inspiring rival choices from Hollywood directors and the cinephile Ross Douthat, an exceptional film that I hold in the highest esteem has gone unrecognized.
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino begins The Great Beauty on the 65th birthday of its protagonist, Jep Gambardella, who published a critically acclaimed novelette in his early 20s, achieving a measure of fame and fortune that he has coasted on ever since. “When I came to Rome at the age of 26, I fell pretty swiftly into what might be defined as the whirl of the high life,” Jep explains early on in a world-weary aside to viewers. “But I didn’t just want to live the high life, I wanted to be the king of the high life. I didn’t just want to attend parties, I wanted the power to make them fail.”
In that he succeeded.
And through him viewers are masterfully seduced into envying Rome and its whirling high life with a series of scenes as visually beautiful as any on film, paired with dialogue so perfect in translation that I can scarcely imagine the original Italian surpassing it. Were The Great Beauty’s exquisite aesthetics marshalled in service of merely skewering a subculture of decadent elites in what is arguably Europe’s most beautiful capital, it would be a worthwhile couple of hours of visual delights.