It's not surprising that Oscar voters fell for the charms of this Italian odyssey, since it's essentially a love letter to Fellini and Rome. It's also completely nuts, following a man on a surreal journey as he explores the beauty around him and tries to make sense of his privileged life. So even if the movie is long and repetitive, it keeps us mesmerised by the idea that the meaning of life can be found in our own passion for beauty.
The film's central character is Jep (Servillo), who has just turned 65 and can hardly believe he lives in a city so gorgeous that it overwhelms the tourists. Jep once wrote a bestselling novel, but has spent the years since then living off his fame, partying every night and hanging out with his wealthy, cynical friends and a string of beautiful women. He's having far too much fun to write another book, but can't help but think back to his difficult childhood. And the only way to forget it is to get lost in the fabulousness of life today.
As a trip into Jep's soul, this film is a surreal dream. There isn't much of a plot, as the screen is packed with colourful images and telling observations. Jep is a fascinating character - prickly and likeable, funny and snobby and brutally honest with his opinions. And the people around him are equally intriguing, energetically performed by a terrific cast to make them all feel like they have full lives outside Jep's orbit. Not that he notices.
Writer-director Sorrentino gorgeously captures Rome's architecture and art on screen with the help of gifted cinematographer Luca Bigazzi. The film is edited with a kinetic drive that plays with colour and light, music and sound, as well as pretty much every art form imaginable. There's painting, music and sculpture of course, but also performance art and knife throwing, plus an actor preparing to play the Pope in one project and a junkie in another. Of course, Jep's goal is to let beauty obscure the grim realities of everyday life, bad relationships and regret. And even though he knows that this is artificial, it still feels wonderful.
Box Office Worldwide: $8.4M
Production compaines: Indigo Film, Medusa Film, Babe Films, Pathé, France 2 Cinéma, Mediaset, Canal+, France Télévisions, Regione Lazio, Banca Popolare di Vicenza, Lazio Film Commission, Fonds Eurimages du Conseil de l'Europe, Programme MEDIA de la Communauté Européenne, Biscottificio Verona
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Producer: Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano
Screenwriter: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella, Carlo Verdone as Romano, Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona, Carlo Buccirosso as Lello Cava, Iaia Forte as Trumeau, Pamela Villoresi as Viola, Galatea Ranzi as Stefania, Franco Graziosi as Conte Colonna, Giorgio Pasotti as Stefano, Massimo Popolizio as Alfio Bracco