It's of course lazy and arguably bigoted, speaking to a cramped sample set, to suggest that Italian Filmmaker A and Italian Filmmaker B resemble each other in no small part because they are both Italian. But it is a national cinema that particularly favors enormous, lavish spectacle, and there's never been a point since WWII where you could look at an Italian prestige picture and not be able to figure out in seconds where it came from.

More specifically, Paolo Sorrentino's enthusiasm for copying Federico Fellini is pretty fucking unambiguous at this point. His 2013 The Great Beauty was nothing if not La dolce vita for the 2010s; and now we meet up with Youth, which isn't quite as unabashed a clone of 8Β½, but let's not go insulting everybody by pretending that a story of artists reflecting on the intersection of their art and their lives during a trip to a spa - one of them a film director having a beastly time casting the leading lady of his newest project - doesn't trigger some extremely strong associations.

That being said, Youth is a hell of a remix, possibly the single most luscious movie I saw in 2015. There's a certain level of indulgence on display, and by "a certain level" I mean "an enormous fucking amount", as costume designer Carlo Poggioli, production designer Ludovica Ferrario, and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi labor under Sorrentino's guidance to create a riot of glamorous lines, colors, and textures. It's cinema-as-drug, and while there is certainly a human dimension underlying this, the film's raw pleasure as a surface-level object doesn't necessarily insist on our doing that much digging.

Still, the digging is worth it. While the B-plot is carried by Harvey Keitel's Mick Boyle, a film director, the A-plot - and in both cases "plot" just means "which person we're watching as he weighs the things he's lost in old age, while staring wistfully at natural and constructed beauty" - centers on Fred Ballinger, a conductor played by Michael Caine in the first fully-awake performance he's given in much too long. Sure enough, the film is informed by music as a central organising element. At the risk of getting entirely pretentious (which I think cannot be avoided if one wants to praise this film) Youth is structured, basically, as though it was a symphony. There are motifs pulled in throughout the film, visually and through dialogue - some motifs, in fact, show up first as dialogue and secondly as visuals, an obvious trick that I completely fell for - and the scenes are strung together with a sense of rhythm more than narrative flow. In fact, the points at which the film turns fully towards narrative , primarily in its last quarter, are something of a buzz-kill: Jane Fonda's much-lauded cameo finds her in extraordinary form (clearly, she decided her goal was to win the entire movie in just one scene), but its placement in the movie is so much about the film's frankly unnecessary conflicts and not at all about its feelings, its textures, or its moods, that it can't help but feel like a terrible miscalculation all 'round.

When the film is popping, though, it's as blissfully rewarding as anything Oscar Season '15 has thrown at us. Caine is good, Keitel is better (if only by virtue of gliding more seamlessly into the film's pageant-like aesthetic), and Rachel Weisz is best, playing Fred's daughter as a series of regrets and bursts of inner strengths, but also selling her role as a character, not a chain of concepts. If nothing else, the film is always beautiful, and if you get onto its wavelength - which I concede is not the easiest thing in the world to do - its musicality pushes it right up close to transcendence. At one point, Fred stands in an alpine field, "conducting" the cows and the wind: corny and awful if you're not on the movie's side by then, one of the most stirring moments of the year if you are. I was; God knows it's ultimately a trivial film with obvious observations about life, but pleasure is pleasure, and even in its worst moments, Youth never let go of me.