Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, Il Divo) doesn’t so much tell stories as paint
pictures. I wouldn’t know how to outline the narrative of his latest film, Youth; all I can say is that it conjures
up an atmosphere that is both inviting and intriguing. It also gives one of my
favorite actors, Michael Caine, a rich leading role.
The setting is
a luxury spa in Switzerland, where orchestra conductor Caine has resided since the
death of his beloved wife. He spends most of his time sharing memories and
observations with his longtime friend, movie director Harvey Keitel, who is
working on a new screenplay with a gaggle of younger writers. He’s also joined
by his daughter (Rachel Weisz), who serves as his assistant and harbors deep
resentment toward him for his neglect of her and her mother during his busy career.
She is going through an emotional crisis of her own, as her husband (Keitel’s
son) has left her for another woman.
retired, but as he philosophizes with his old friend, it becomes clear that he
feels disconnected from his former life. An emissary from the Queen comes to
notify him of his impending knighthood and to convey a request from Her Majesty
that he perform his most famous composition. He refuses, citing personal reasons
and refusing to elaborate.
spa creates a hermetic environment removed from the real world, and serves as a
stage for observing the human condition with all its idiosyncrasies. A young
actor (Paul Dano) keeps a keen eye on everything around him as he prepares for
his next role, while an obese former football star is reduced to playing with a
tennis ball all by himself.
Youth may be difficult to describe, but
it’s easy to watch, as we absorb the frailties, follies and delusions of these
disparate characters. (Jane Fonda contributes a brief but searing performance
as an aging actress around whom Keitel has fashioned his latest script.) As in The Great Beauty, one is frequently reminded
of Fellini who, like Sorrentino, reveled in watching the passing parade. David
Lang’s score, along with carefully chosen source music, enhances the mood that
Sorrentino develops. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi makes the most of the
beautiful setting, which dwarfs the lonely figures who walk around the grounds
contemplating their past and searching for meaning in their future.
It’s always a pleasure to watch Caine
at work, and he proves to be as deft at underplaying as he is in more forceful
characterizations; he and Keitel mesh perfectly. Youth may seem an ironic title for this meditative piece, but at
the end of the picture it makes perfect sense: life is over only when you stop