11/20/2013 09:39 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Popcorn Preview: The Great Beauty

Film: The Great Beauty (2013) "La grande bellezza"
Cast includes: Toni Servillo (The Consequences of Love)
Writer/Director: Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place, The Consequences of Love)
Genre: Drama | Comedy (142 minutes) Italian with subtitles

Roma O Morte draws tourists from all over the world. There's a Japanese tour in progress at the moment. Liturgical choir music heightens the experience... making it worth the trip to die of a heart attack... camera in hand... in such a glorious dream-come-true. On Jep's terrace overlooking the Coliseum, the music is loud and pulsating. The guests... wealthy Romans... bejeweled and attired in their sexy finest are dancing and chanting... "I'll screw you. I'll screw you." The chatter is decadent and inane... "Yes, I stared in two TV dramas... I might give up acting and write a novel." Journalist Jep tells us he always gets the same answer when he asks, "What do you like most in the world? Pussy." The next day, Jep tells his housekeeper he just wants to forget his birthday. For the newspaper, he interviews a performance artist, asking about her concept of vibration. That's not what she wants to talk about, but he insists. "The dwarf" (his editor) loves the snarky write up.

"Job? I'm rich," says the Contessa. After sex, she tells Jep that her friends say she takes a great photo. "Nude?" he asks. Some. She goes to get her laptop so she can show him her Facebook page. When she returns to the bedroom, Jep is gone. "After turning 65, I realize I can't waste time doing things I don't want to do." Walking along the river, he tells us he came to Rome when he was 26. He lived the high life... "I wanted to be king of the high life." Back home, the man waiting outside his door is Elisa's husband... except that Elisa has recently died. When the husband read her diary, he learned that his wife loved only one man... Jep. They hadn't seen each other since 1970, and she never loved anyone else--not even her husband of 35 years. The next day, Jep's housekeeper wants to know if he feels sad. "I feel strange," he tells her. "I prefer you sad."

Over the course of almost 2.5 hours, we are treated to sumptuous visuals of many of the most gorgeous parts of Rome, with a sound track that alternates between soaring liturgical notes and pulsating modern music. Jep is the ultimate cynic. And while he's not ready to give up the good life, at this point, he is beginning to look at everyone and everything with a jaded eye. You have to be able to sit back and let this film wash over you. It doesn't have a typical plot. Rather than moving forward, the story has a way of layering on. But if you love Rome and you're willing to be patient, you'll enjoy it. Director Paolo Sorrentino says that while he did not intend to recreate Fellini's La Dolce Vita or Roma, it's no accident that there are similarities. It's an ambitious film that was selected as Italy's entry for 2013 Academy Awards. Jep... wonderfully acted by Toni Servillo... takes us to all the most spectacular haunts of the rich and pretentious. As we discover, Jep knows everyone. It's ok if we find his friends shallow and vacuous; he does too. After a while, their conversation is nothing more than "blah, blah, blah." Everyone want to know why Jep never wrote another novel after his wildly successful book 30 years ago. He's never been able to answer that question... until now.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A successful journalist in Rome turns 65 and starts seeing his life and friends for what they really are

Popcorn Profile
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Sober
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Primary Driver: Artistic concept
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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