Aging socialite Jep Gambardella (Servillo) celebrates his 65th birthday with a lavish, decadent party in Rome. Once a fêted young novelist, Jep hasn’t written anything of note in years and spends his time reveling in high-society nightlife. After a visit from an old friend, Jep embarks on a soul-searching exploration of the city and its denizens, reminiscing on a long lost love, and pondering the meaning of life. Former acquaintances, a stripper, a holy woman and the literati all come under scrutiny in his existential search.
With a respectful cinematic nod to the great Fellini, Paolo Sorrentino presents his own paean to Rome, a city of outsize beauty, historical weight and grotesque superficiality. Frequent collaborator Servillo suggests a senior version of Marcello Mastroianni in “La Dolce Vita,” with his well-cut suits and white fedora barely hiding a growing lassitude. The camerawork of Luca Bigazzi is breathtaking, and Sorrentino molds the episodic structure into a swirling swoosh of life lived and sometimes wasted. The dazzling aesthetic and social satire are but window-dressing for the deeper significance of Jep’s Candide-like journey. The title may refer to Rome, or life itself, in this contemporary masterpiece. Find the “Beauty” in this film.