Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
The son of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Crown Prince Rudolf, is believed to have shot his female lover and himself in a tragic suicide pact in 1882 in Mayerling. Due to Imperial cover-ups, the full story may never be known. This story has been filmed several times, in French in 1935 and in English in 1968. Hungarian director Miklos Jancso recreates those events for his own purposes, continuing his favored theme of the rejection of paternal authority. In the film, which has very little dialog, Rudolf is a good-natured pan-sexual golden boy, who cavorts on his rural estate with a host of beautiful, aristocratic lovers and friends of both sexes. He refuses to leave his country idyll even though he has been ordered to by the Emperor, his father. Despite the fact that for a large part of the film, attractive young people go about unclothed and engaging in erotic encounters, the mood is one of melancholy rather than prurience.
Splendor is the name of an old movie theater managed by Jordan (Mastroianni), who inherited it from his father. The theater is in decay and only generates debts and trouble, but Jordan gets aid in his almost quixotian quest from projectionist Luigi (Troisi) and ushurette Chantale (Vlady). However, Jordan is finally forced to sell the Splendor to businessman Lo Fazio (Piperno), which plans to transform it in some kind of furniture store. When Jordan leaves the theater for the last time (the very first scene), he recalls the glorious days of Splendor and movies in general.