Sorrentino shines at Cannes

Take on a decadent Rome is Italy’s only festival entry

Sorrentino shines at Cannes

(By Francesco Gallo) Milan, May 21 - The only Italian entry in this year's Cannes Film Festival, Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), was a hit with audiences during its sneak-preview for the press. The film that opened on Tuesday confirmed it was in the running for the much sought Palme d'Or prize. The Neapolitan director was invited in April by the festival's organizers to present his film at this year's 66th edition, being held in the seaside resort on the French Riviera May 15-26. His latest feature film is about a Rome culture and style journalist who recollects his youth. It is a collection of aesthetically perfect 'pictures' that depicts an indolent Rome, populated by rude people, plastic women and men of little substance. Playing a sort of 'guide' through this Rome is Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo), a 65-year-old journalist and writer who acts as a sort of sophisticated, cynical and ironic Virgil. Gambardella arrives in Rome when he's 26, the same age as Federico Fellini, and he brings with him all the curiosity of the provinces, as well as a high-class Neapolitan accent. He comes from a wealthy family, has the right dress for all occasions and knows the right people who enjoy the same type of nightlife as he does. He often entertains them in his Rome flat, whose terrace has a view of the Coliseum. Every imaginable character has at some point passed through Gambardella's flat: from the very wealthy and morally uptight radical-chic to a sort of botulin guru who scolds her customers as she pumps up their features; from the artist who puts on self-destructive performances to the slightly aged strip-dancer, played by Sabrina Ferilli, who looks upon Gambardella's world with a healthy dose of detachment; from the failed, yet ambitious and fragile actor - played by an extraordinary Carlo Verdone, funny and with a pair of oversize sunglasses together with his usual set of improbable stories - to the missionary who has so married the cause of poverty as to live off a diet rich in roots. But the real protagonists of The Great Beauty are the mass of parvenus, politicians, journalists, actors, degenerate nobility, high prelates, artists and intellectuals, real or false, who parade through the picture. It's these people who all dance to the techno beat at Gambardella's terrace parties, where the outsider from Naples becomes the insider everyone wants to be. "I didn't want to simply become a socialite, I wanted to become the king of the socialites. I didn't want to only participate in the parties, I wanted to have the power to make them fail," Gambardella tells himself at one point in the movie. As with all movies, The Great Beauty also has its cult phrase moment when Gambardella, reflecting on his youth, says: "When I was young they used to ask us kids what was the most beautiful thing in the world. All my friends would say 'a stupid girl', while I would say 'the smell of old peoples' homes'. I was destined, because of this sensibility, to become a writer". Written and developed by Sorrentino himself with the help of Umberto Contarello, the film is dedicated to Neapolitan journalist Giuseppe D'Avanzo, who died two years ago. Sorrentino, known for such previous Cannes selections as This Must Be The Place (2011) and Il Divo (2008), is Italy's sole candidate in the official competition for the top-prize Palme d'Or. Born in Naples, Sorrentino's other two Cannes films are The Consequences of Love (2004) and The Family Friend (L'amico di famiglia, 2006).

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