Awe-inspiring visuals, poetic meditation on one’s purpose, tremendously understated performances and splash of foolishness; Italian writer and director Paolo Sorrentino crafts a stirring look at age through the prism of two men; Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). Boyle, one time titanic filmmaker and Ballinger, a retired orchestra conductor, are old friends vacationing in the opulent retreat in the Alps. While Boyle has compiled an ensemble of hipster filmmaking talent to craft an overdue masterpiece, an emissary for Queen Elizabeth approaches Ballinger to come out of retirement for Prince Phillip’s birthday.
Caine’s Ballinger is using the retreat as a figurative ice flow; set off to move quietly into the end of his life. Accompanied by his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) he’s wrestling his selective memory of the events that shaped his and his family’s lives. Caine so beautifully takes the flaws, the emotion and the hard truths with grace. He’s stoic, convinced that his virtue is as sturdy as a totem. When Caine and Weisz clash as father and daughter, and hard truths hit like bulldozers, he’s left to appraise the rubble of his once sturdy life. Caine layers his performance with the bulletproof tough guy exterior that’s both implied or etched in your memory (if you’re an enduring fan) and peels him away to an uncomfortably vulnerable place.
Keitel conversely is denying that he’s done. He’s using the retreat to spark inspiration and continues to remind his friend Ballinger that it’s not over for them. Keitel projects Boyle as stubbornly indignant that his best years and films are behind him and despite the silver hair, his mental ferocity and wit is sharp as a sabre. When ageing starlet Jane Fonda, Boyle’s former muse and greatest collaborator, confronts him snarling and tarnishing his latest pursuits with the brush of accusations of desecrating his legacy it’s like watching an ageing male lion betrayed and picked apart by a more virile successor.
The setting is vibrant both in its aesthetic inspirational quality and the eccentrics who occupy it. Sorrentino approaches the hotel with stillness, allowing the natural movement of the life forms that populate it to orchestrate poetry. And yet there’s flourish after flourish of colour and absurdity that tempers the otherwise contemplative tone. The misfits that Ballinger and Boyle (Keitel) encounter include Paul Dano’s tortured actor Jimmy Tree who is wonderfully somber about the possibility that he’ll be imprisoned by one poor decision of casting; or the totally silent husband and wife pairing played by Helmut Förnbacher and Heidi Maria Glössner, who the boys bet on every night to see who’ll break their silent treatment add misfit unpredictability to the divine and precise space. The soundtrack underpinning the action or dropping in performances like codas in the film’s lyrical construct only serves to lure you into to Youth‘s romance.
Youth will make you laugh at ageing eccentrics; claw at your soul as the curtain draws on life and ones purpose and legacy is threatened by memory and yearn for these flawed artists to have redemption. Sorrentino’s Youth is sublime.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz