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Michael Caine Regains His ‘Youth’

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.

Rachel Weisz - Youth

Photo by Gianni Fiorito – Courtesy of 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film

Caine is 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.

The idyllic 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.

Jane Fonda-Youth

Photo by Gianni Fiorito – Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

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 caring.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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