If calling a movie “Fellini-esque” is a cliché, then applying that term to an Italian movie about an older, creatively blocked artist wandering through a decadent, occasionally grotesque yet always beautiful modern Rome borders on lazy. And still, if the Bruno Magli Maioco fits: Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty is molto felliniano. But it's a damn good Fellini. The aging artist is Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a writer who has managed to coast on the success of a single novel he wrote 40 years earlier, so much so that even with his current journalism gig he has an impossibly perfect apartment in Rome overlooking both the Coliseum and a verdant nunnery. Jep now finds himself taking stock of just what it all means, while floating through a Rome of parties, casual nude performance art, gorgeous lighting, and fluid camera work, and in which in people post naked selfies to Facebook, because even in Italy it's 2013. Another updating from Fellini's world is that the practically obligatory dwarf (Giovanna Vignola) is an actual character — she's Jep's editor, no less. Something that hasn't changed are the images of permissiveness and open sexuality that once made foreign films, Italian in particular, seem so exotic. The taboos may be fewer, but The Great Beauty still goes places most American films don't.
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