Paolo Sorrentino

The Great Beauty

Editor’s note: Our review of The Great Beauty originally ran during this year’s Cannes film festival, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens in limited theatrical release today. Paolo Sorrentino‘s latest film, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), opens with a sizeable quote lengthy enough that the English subtitles at this evening’s Cannes Film Festival screening had to zoom through it at lightning speed, giving non-natives a chance only to speed-read the mounting context of the piece. Still, it isn’t long before a character brings us up to speed with the film’s focal question – “what do you enjoy most in life?” Jep Gambardello (Tony Servillo) finds himself trying to answer this for most of The Great Beauty, which opens with a bizarre sequence in which a man taking snaps around Italy suddenly drops dead, hitting the thematic nail on the head right from the first frames. The scene soon enough changes to a seductive, lengthy montage set inside a club, a regular haunt of the 65-year-old Jep, now entering the final stages of his life and getting a little dewey-eyed about it. While still having trysts with beautiful women, he no longer enjoys it in the same way, and his existential crisis reaches its apex when he learns that his old flame Elisa has died suddenly.

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  Editor’s note: With This Must Be the Place now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Cannes review, originally published on May 20, 2011. Sean Penn‘s second appearance at this year’s fest – though in truth his first main once, since he was relegated to a side player in The Tree of Life – sees him don his finest goth garb and make-up to take an impressive shot at a Robert Smith type character. He plays Cheyenne, an aging former rock star, who seems happy to live off his royalties in a grand country house in Ireland with his wife (Frances McDormand), though really he is stagnating: depressed or bored, he can’t work out which. He gets an opportunity for respite when his father dies and he travels home to America for the funeral, subsequently learning that his father had been obsessed with tracking down a former Nazi Auschwitz guard who tormented him, and using the information he had already compiled to take on the task himself. In essence Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place is a one-man road movie, and in traditional fashion it presents both a metaphorical and a physical journey through undiscovered or at least unfamiliar lands. And it all hangs on yet another stellar performance by Mr. Penn, who now must be getting close to being sick of the praise.

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This Must Be the Place

Like a bizarre rumor, This Must Be The Place has been floating around out there for a while. It saw audiences at Cannes 2011 (where Simon fell in love with it) and then traveled to Sundance, so even though its journey hasn’t been as long as some festival flicks out there, it’s nice to see it finally see the darkened theater light of day. From director Paolo Sorrentino, the film stars Sean Penn as a former rock star who is spurred by his father’s death to learn more about the man and to track down the Nazi death camp guard who tormented him. He does this all while looking like Robert Smith from The Cure and talking as if years of drug use made him permanently dehydrated. From the trailer, it looks to be a serious subject handled with dry absurdity. Check it out for yourself:

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