Sorrentino's film is a tribute to Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita, or perhaps even intended as a sequel, with the main character, the journalist Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo), as an older version of Mastroianni's protagonist in the 1960 masterpiece. Like La Dolce Vita and many other Fellini films, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) is centred around life in beautiful Rome and – lazy viewer beware – is episodic rather than plot-driven.The film begins on Jep's 65th birthday on which he throws an age-defying rooftop disco party. Our main character himself, however, feels a sense of disappointment. The film depicts the aging playboy's search for the "great beauty" through a constant alternation of the loud and the quiet, distraction and tranquility, the modern and the timeless – both contrasts depicted in stunning images.
Jep explores beauty in carnality and spirituality, in friendship, art, and even in sorrow. The film avoids the social realism of earlier Italian directors, which is perhaps surprising considering Italy's role in the current Euro crisis, but this is a portrait of posh Italians far removed from unemployment and financial hardship – this is Berlusconi's Italy - the leisurely class - and in its portrayal of its superficiality lies perhaps a latent social critique.Political speculations aside, this film is mostly an optimistic piece about the importance of having people around you and of living life to the full while staying true to your roots. At the centre of it all, one of the greatest highlights is the performance by Toni Servillo as Jep, as well as the film's real, omnipresent main character, the Eternal City.