'La Dolce Vita' gets a Cannes update

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino presented a lush portrait of decadence and excess in contemporary Rome at Cannes Tuesday in a film reviewers said echoed the classic "La Dolce Vita".

  • Published: 22/05/2013 at 01:49 AM
  • Newspaper section: news

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino poses on May 21, 2013 during a photocall for the film "La Grande Bellezza" (The Great Beauty) presented in Competition at the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes. Sorrentino presented a lush portrait of decadence and excess in contemporary Rome at Cannes Tuesday in a film reviewers said echoed the classic "La Dolce Vita".

"The Great Beauty" (La Grande Bellezza) tells the story of ageing writer-dandy Jep Gambardella, played by the much-praised Toni Servillo.

Orgiastic parties hosted by Jep in his fabulous rooftop flat overlooking the Colosseum only briefly interrupt his search for meaning in his twilight years, recalling themes in Federico Fellini's immortal 1960 tragicomedy.

The author of a brilliant novella in his youth, Jep now funds his lavish lifestyle collecting royalties and writing high-profile magazine interviews.

He attends absurd art openings, one of which features a young girl playing out a tantrum by throwing buckets of paint at a canvas, while his friends in the chattering classes prattle on about sex scandals.

A lifelong womaniser, the 65-year-old Jep keeps up his bed-hopping but with ever-diminishing satisfaction.

"The film simply tries to portray a poverty that is not material poverty but a different kind of poverty," Sorrentino, who won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008 for "Il Divo" about the late Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, told reporters.

"We're not trying to judge these people but just to say that they are a symbol of our country."

The new picture won praise for its remarkable cinematography, in which Rome appears bathed in golden light by day and as a shimmering jewel by night.

It is a radical break from Sorrentino's high-concept 2011 Cannes contender "This Must Be The Place" in which Sean Penn played a Nazi-hunting 1980s pop star.

The 42-year-old director said that compared to "La Dolce Vita", his film reflected despair about conditions in today's crisis-hit Italy.

"The Italy of 'La Dolce Vita' was full of hope, an Italy that felt it was experiencing a very enthusiastic period right after the war," he said.

"Here you have the portrait of a city that symbolises a certain human condition. It doesn't reflect hope at all but rather shadows of bygone times."

Following largely positive reviews, a confident Sorrentino said "The Great Beauty" had one thing in particular in common with Fellini's most famous film.

"For obvious reasons 'La Dolce Vita' is a masterpiece and my film will become a masterpiece too," he said to applause.

"The Great Beauty" is one of 20 films vying for the Palme d'Or top prize to be presented Sunday by an all-star jury led by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg.

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