The movie begins with a party. It is Jep Gambardello’s (Toni Sevillo) birthday. A runty, balding, lecherous old man is hissing, “I want to fuck you,” to the tanned thighs of twenty something young women. Regardless of age from 70 to 17, everyone is dancing to the same music and having a good time. I noticed that I had a smile on my face watching the gyrations of these happy Italians. In America, it is a rare sight to see people over the age of thirty dancing. I haven’t danced in years except for the occasionally Snoopy Dance when something really good has happened, but it is in private, without an audience. The next time I dance in public will be at my daughter’s wedding, and with all sincerity I hope that will be a while yet.
Of course, it is impossible not to make comparisons to the dancing in <i>La Dolce Vita</i>. If the ghost of the brilliant Federico Fellini was not in attendance he should have been.
Jep wrote a novella in his twenties which achieved some critical praise. On the slender reed of this celebrity, he has at the age of 65 become a man of Rome. He is invited to the trendiest dinners and is begged to be seen at certain events. He has become famous for being famous.
He never wrote another novel.
The city of Rome with all the parties and the people ate up his time and in the process ate up his talent as well. He still writes, but as a journalist although how devoted he is to this task is hard to ascertain. His boss is a self-proclaimed “dwarf” who shares her lunches with him which gives her a chance to talk to him. He has a special talent for discourse.
His stripper girlfriend is a breath of fresh air to him. She is far from awed over his stature and manages to pierce his intellectual assuredness with a few arrows of candor. His best friend is enamored with him and keeps extorting him to write another novel, which at this point is such a monumental task that even the thought of it adds another layer of depression to Jep’s growing dissatisfaction with the life he has fabricated.
Elaborately constructed characters, though on the screen for a short period of time, still leave a lasting impression. There is the man with what looks like a case for a musical instrument which actually holds the keys to every public building in Rome. There is the girl who creates art using gallon cans of paint which she smears into masterpieces. There is the man who continues his father’s task of taking a picture of his face every single day. There is the nun that loved Jep’s book, but is so withered that one could assume she was a mummy until some flicker of movement betrays life. The list goes on and on in the rich pageantry of this movie.
Every scene gave me more than I expected. The cinematography is lush and shows the seductiveness of such a vibrant lifestyle in such a provocative city. The dialogue is deceptively languid, but bristles with intelligence. Despite the fact that Jep is melancholy or maybe a better term for it is weary, the film is far from depressing, partly because Jep does such a good job of hiding his true feelings. He has spent years amusing people with his wit over dinner and thus in a sense singing for his supper. The constant need to entertain and be entertained has reached critical mass, and in the time spent recharging between events he becomes bored and listless. With one movie Paolo Sorrentino has become one of my favorite directors. I came away from watching the movie feeling buoyant and inspired. This movie made me wish I had the talent to write a movie script.