ROME - Italy's "The Great Beauty", which clinched the Oscar for best foreign language film on Sunday, is the story of a jaded dandy in Rome that carries strong echoes of Federico Fellini's classic "La Dolce Vita".
Jep Gambardella, played by the amazingly versatile Toni Servillo, is a novelist with writer's block who glides through decadent high society thanks to the legendary success of his one and only book.
On his 65th birthday, Jep is faced with a shock from his past and is forced to take stock, turning to the splendour of an Eternal City that is beautifully shot by director Paolo Sorrentino.
"This is my life. It is nothing," he sighs at one point in his personal journey, populated with over-the-top characters including a cardinal more interested in food than faith and a saintly elderly nun.
"I can no longer waste time doing things I do not want to do," he says in another turning point scene after the latest in a long line of loveless sexual conquests.
In his monologue, Jep admits that he fell into a "vortex of high society".
His self-realisation includes a visit to see the real-life wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship on an Italian island and his decision not to have sex with a stripper, the daughter of one of his friends.
One particularly memorable scene is his nighttime tour of the palaces of Rome thanks to a mysterious locksmith who holds the keys to the city's monuments.
Sorrentino told AFP in an interview that filming in Rome had been particularly challenging because of the masters who had used it as their canvas.
"I tried to imagine that it's the first film shot in this city and in these surroundings, about these people," Sorrentino said during a visit to Hollywood last year to promote the film.
The movie, which clocks in at 142 minutes, marks Sorrentino's return to Italy after his 2011 "This Must Be The Place" starring Sean Penn as a rock star who goes on a quest to find a Nazi war criminal.
"La Grande Bellezza" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. It had already won best foreign film earlier this year at the Golden Globes.
Among the most visually amazing scenes are the cocktail parties that Jep holds on his terrace overlooking the Colosseum.
"It was something new for me, as I had never filmed parties," Sorrentino said. "I really liked shooting it because I love watching people dancing."