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Extravagant, richly melancholic and frustratingly elliptical, “The Great Beauty” wants to be the Fellini movie that Fellini never made. At times it seems that every frame is a tribute to the Fellini classics of the early 1960s.

Toni Servillo, a charismatic veteran actor best known for his work in “Gomorrah,” could almost be a stand-in for Marcello Mastroianni. His 65-year-old character, Jep Gambardella, is a mixture of the Roman hedonist Mastroianni portrayed in “La Dolce Vita” and the blocked artist Mastroianni played in “8½.”

Jep knows everybody because of the success of his one and only novel (which apparently provides him with an apartment overlooking the Colosseum).

Eventually he becomes aware that he’s part of a triangle involving a widower whose wife once dumped Jep. The mystery of her rejection leads him to ask to read her locked diary.

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The writer-director, Paolo Sorrentino (“Il Divo”), uses this slender storyline as the basis for a series of strikingly photographed parties and confrontations and one grandly traditional funeral. These episodes begin on a burst of anarchic energy and conclude with resigned acceptance.

Much like the finales of “La Dolce Vita” and “8½,” they find something uniquely stirring in this Roman circus and its semi-magical parade of humanity.

John Hartl:

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