Sixty-five-year-old cultural critic Jep (Toni Servillo) is jaded by Rome's dolce vita and idly dreams of returning to writing fiction. However, he is still much in demand as a sort of Italian Oscar Wilde, dispensing waspish quips as he wryly rolls up at an endless round of parties attended by models, actors and ageing hedge fund lotharios. Maverick director Paulo Sorrentino is on firm, home ground with this intoxicating glimpse into the city's impolite society, a world of scandal, strippers and artists partying among the city's ruins.
For weary Roman scribe Jep Gamberdella (Servillo) the days of the Eternal City are numbered.
After a lifetime of scabrously mixing it with the city's beau monde - writers, models, bankers, actors and strippers - he is tiring of his function as the wit who provides the waspishly cultural stamp of approval on the city's decadent parties.
Weary of his lifestyle and with his close friends muttering about leaving the city, he goes through the motions of the party animal...but where there was once bravura there is now boredom.
After his disappointing foray into English-speaking cinema with This Must Be The Place , Italian director Paulo Sorrentino is back on form with this mesmerising appreciation of Rome, both a love letter and a missive of condolence.
The superb Servillo - who, when he doesn't have the look of Denis Norden, is the spit of a lusty Sid James - is the perfect match for Sorrentino's wry vision, a cultivated and literate observer who masks his discenchantment with a vicious cynicism.
In one scene, an appalling performance artist is literally reduced to tears by Jep's mocking interrogation/interview and in another an old friend who has Trudi Styler-pretensions of self-worth is verbally destroyed with a tongue like a scalpel dipped in poison.
However, the narrative is also at pains to show that Jep is not completely emotionally detached - he shocks himself by openly weeping at a funeral after delivering a cold summary of how to appear sympathetic without upstaging the main mourners.
Sorrentino mischievously turns on the vacuous machinations of the idle rich - a roof-top party for Jep's 65th birthday under the neon glow of a Martini sign is populated by fashionistas, hard-bodied models and older, wealthier, uglier men (think Bernie Ecclestone or Philip Green) who jitterbug badly to euro-disco. Clarkson is probably there.
However, it's the prospect of growing old that most depresses Jep (an unsatisfactory sexual encounter with a gorgeous, wealthy socialite sees him disconsolately slipping away from her palazzo) and it's this coming to terms with mortality that presents the greatest challenge.