Caine, Keitel and Sorrentino invigorate ‘Youth’
Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda
“Youth” - The title of writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s new film is a curious one. His starring leads are 82-year-old Michael Caine and 76-year-old Harvey Keitel, but after experiencing Sorrentino’s beautifully-filmed picture - and some needed time to ponder its contents - the reasons for his chosen title become much clearer. Sorrentino is a film lover’s filmmaker with a major art-house style, and here, he communicates his narrative by introducing intriguing characters engaging in intimate conversations and intermingles (either before, after or during a scene) stunning visuals and pleasing sounds, including a truly spectacular and surprising opening with a band called The Retrosettes. The end result is a cinematic feast for our senses while simultaneously providing nourishment for our thoughts on a little journey we call life.
The main lives in play in “Youth” are a famous, retired composer Fred Ballinger (Caine) and his best friend Mick Boyle (Keitel) who is a Hollywood director. Although Mick is working on a new script with a team of young writers, they are both on vacation. The picture’s third main character is a massive, posh hotel located in the Swiss Alps. Surrounded by picturesque snow-capped mountains, this gorgeous, secluded place takes an army of people to run it. Maids, aids, guides, cooks, massage therapists, and musical talent offer their services for the wealthy and prominent guests, and Sorrentino spends screen time showing these laborers working hard amongst the lush grounds, rooms, restaurants, spas, rock climbing walls, and massage tables. At times the employees and patrons move like a well-orchestrated symphony and other times, the camera focuses on someone sitting or standing in solitude in an open space.
Speaking of a symphony, the main point of conflict in the picture is Fred’s resistance to a request from a Buckingham Palace events coordinator. He inquires if Fred will perform his famed “Simple Songs” for Queen Elizabeth, but he repeatedly declines due to personal reasons. Since Fred admits his apathy and reclusiveness, the cause for these “personal reasons” raises our curiosity. When he eventually reveals the reason, Caine delivers an on-screen moment which stops the audience in its tracks.
Sorrentino offers many scenes with Fred and Mick tracking across the hotel, the nearby woods or the quiet roads along the rolling hills as they recollect on the past. These exchanges with Caine and Keitel are quietly electric, and their time together - conversing as best friends for 50 or 60 years - is a pleasure to watch. Talk of their youth sometimes enters conversations, or they give slight recognition to it with a passing smile at a toddler or a look of amazement towards a teenager performing a wheelie on a bike. Many times, however, the current state of affairs owns much of their attention, such as how Mick’s new film will be his testament, and he calls it “Life’s Last Day”. On the other hand, Fred’s view is more pessimistic as he misses his wife and views his future as nothing but bland routine. That is certainly ironic, because there is nothing bland about their current Swiss surroundings.
Other characters who engage Fred are other hotel guests and workers like his dutiful daughter (Rachel Weisz), a highly-successful movie actor (Paul Dano), a famous athlete who is now severely overweight (Roly Serrano), the reigning Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea), and his massage therapist (Luna Zimic Mijovic). Together they mix into a brew of sights, sounds, laughs, and tears in a given playground of the rich and distinguished. No matter the characters’ ages or checking account balances, the movie captures important on-screen minutes of their individual daily lives which tell stories of their internal wonder, passions or regret. Although we only receive glimpses in many spaces, every individual has much to say. Through Sorrentino's creative insight and the very impactful performances by Caine and Keitel (and a small hurricane-like entrance by Jane Fonda), "Youth" has much to say too.
Yes, after experiencing "Youth", the reasons for the film's title make perfect sense. (3.5/4 stars)