Today: May 30, 2024

Youth

After the majesty of The Great Beauty the world waited, with baited breath, as to what Paolo Sorrentino would do next. His follow-up Youth shares much in common with his last opus. That sense of looking back at life, of finding ways of appreciating what has gone while savouring the moment in the here and now. The title is ironic, that while these old men look back at their lives and the lessons they’ve learned youth is wasted on the young.

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a world renowned composer holidaying in a celebrity retreat in the French Alps. Accompanying him is his best friend and film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who is preparing for his latest film and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) who is going through a marital break-up. Meanwhile actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is preparing for his latest role.

As you would expect from Sorrentino Youth is a film of staggering beauty. His lethargic, precise and almost guarded camera moves throughout the retreat capturing the finest of moments in the most delicate of ways. The script has that uncanny ability to allow the actors to say very little but communicate so much.

The film finds ways to delicately tease its themes and characters out. At times, normally during flourishes of music, Sorrentino rams home the point a little too hard. For much of the film he dances around his subjects, hinting at things while teasing the characters’ incentives and desires, but from time to time he feels the need to state the obvious.

Throughout there is a sense of serenity mixed with nostalgia and agony. A form of purgatory in which the occupants are struggling to remember who they were while holding on to the identity they have assumed for themselves.

Michael Caine is on stunning form. His performance here is quiet, distilled to often little more than a series of subtle reactions but, as only Caine can, he always has that slight twinkle in his eye, for the most part it’s that sense that he’s in on a joke we’re not a part of. At others it’s full of sorrow and aching that is often difficult to behold. Keitel is solid but the character always feels slightly two dimensional. Meanwhile Paul Dano steals every scene he is in. His brooding, arrogant actor masks the deep insecurities and disappointment in not only his fans but his own choices. When he and Caine share the screen there is a sense of two men looking at life from opposite ends of the age spectrum but with the same sense of regret.

Sometimes a little fuzzy around the edges Youth is a poignant essay on growing old and looking back that inspires through gorgeous visuals and enchanting performances.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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Youth

Paulo Sorrentino is a master manipulator of sound and image, specifically harnessing music to upend and eviscerate you, so no doubt his latest film, Youth, centres around a musician, an actor and a director. The elements essential to conveying feeling in film. If it’s not autobiographical then it’s certainly a beautifully complex and self aware love letter to the industry and its heroes and not without a reminiscent nod in the direction of Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2.

Paul Dano does nothing but confirm that he is already, and will continue to become, one of the leading lights of his generation. When his character takes a dramatic turn you can’t imagine anyone else playing it quite as well as he does. A great testament to any actor. As for Jane Fonda, playing the self-referential plastic-surgery-victim Hollywood diva, it’s excellent casting, for that very reason, and brave of any actor to knowingly mock oneself, but, amidst such stellar company, she shines somewhat less brightly. Appeasing that her contribution is pivotal yet limited.

It’s Harvey Keitel (Mick Boyle) and Michael Caine (Fred Ballinger) who are the film’s centre and their relationship delivers an unexpected tenderness. “We only tell each other the good stuff”, they both say of their 60 year friendship. Although, they will openly discuss their latest bladder movements, or lack thereof, and prostates. Youth pulls no punches in its honest depiction of ageing, nor does it shy away from the exposed human form. Both of which are still taboos worth breaking.

You would be forgiven for thinking Keitel is in a supporting role, until the final scenes, when it becomes clear that his character has been intentionally woven into the narrative that way. Then, and only then, his performance is simply devastating. A trick of Sorrentino’s, perhaps, as evidenced in an earlier scene with Ballinger’s daughter (played with some poise and craft by Rachel Weisz), what begins as a seemingly trite and innocuous speech can snowball with such momentum and velocity until suddenly it’s become some key internal unleashing.

Some of the dialogue can, at times, feel slightly like ‘dialogue’ but then you’ve got the perfect parody of a team of screenwriters trying to finish their film script, coming up with simply awful, beyond clichéd, lines in search of something honest and meaningful. This is where the film begins to transcend its own medium. Being heavily self aware, able to acknowledge the absurdities of itself as a film and the many vain processes that go into its production, it still manages to make you forget you’re watching one and moves you in ways that only a movie can.

The intricacies of Sorrentino’s observations can be misconstrued as flippantly comical, at times, when really he’s delving far deeper, into the tragicomic core of what it is to be human. More specifically, to be human in extremely, even rarely, comfortable circumstances; where everything is provided and nothing is required. For these people what remains is a void which they can no longer fill with ostentation, nor with themselves. Sorrentino ably pulls the strings of laughter as easily and often as he does those of sorrow (as Fred Ballinger himself says, at the very outset of the film, “levity is also a perversion”). He is our conductor, the ‘maestro’, conducting an orchestra of emotions and hugely talented actors. And bringing down the house in the process.

The similarities between Caine‘s immaculately coiffed rolling mullet and that of Toni Servillo‘s in The Great Beauty suggestibly belie Sorrentino’s underlying themes and an aesthetic contingency between the two projects. An opulence is clearly present in both, albeit this time around much more muted, subtle and evaporating, in stark contrast to the almost hellish hedonism of La Grande Bellezza. And yet, the same feeling pervades: richness surrounds itself with emptiness. A vacuum of emotional poverty swallows up the materially wealthy. And it’s the affluent residents of this elite hotel that form our microcosm of introspection.

Life in all its stages inhabits this strange alpine retreat. Caine’s Ballinger and Keitel’s Boyle propping up one end of the age spectrum, Dano’s wonderfully named Jimmy Tree firmly stuck in the middle and poignant turns from a stroppy teenager (Emilia Jones) and a charming left-handed violinist (Leo Artin) giving us the hope and eponymous youth. The scene where Boyle and Ballinger sit on one side of a swimming pool staring with the eyes of their teenage selves at a completely naked Miss Universe on the other, pretty well sums up the film’s message.

Touching, warm, gentle and funny but with enough working behind its rich façade to grind a few emotional gears, maybe even pull a few heart strings, Sorrentino’s Youth is one for the ages.

“Life goes on, even without that cinema bullsh*t” – Brenda Morel.
Life goes on but it might just resonate for an hour or two after you leave that ‘cinema bullsh*t’ on this occasion.

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