Youth review – life and death as seen from a luxury hot tub | Youth | The Guardian
This new film from Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino is an entertaining but minor work, another of his sharply controlled, angular costumbrista comedies, the latter always breaking into bizarre, neo-realistic tableaus of ugly people in various states of nudity. It’s the kind of style that risks running out of substance and, like his other English-language film This Must Be The Place (2011), is eroded by Sorrentino’s soft spot for rock star cameos. just once in a while, it feels like a 124-minute rolex commercial. but there is always such a superb poise.
when i first saw youth at cannes last year, i wondered if the title had hints of tolstoy or conrad. In reality, it is more likely a satirical echo of Mussolini’s sinister anthem, Giovinezza, praising young rank-and-file fascists (“giovinezza, giovinezza, primavera di beauty, per la vita nell’asprezza, il tuo canto squilla e va! ” – “youth, youth, spring of beauty, in the harshness of life, their song sounds and goes on!”) Sorrentino’s film complains about the terrible tyranny of youth, the fascist cult of beauty and the celebrity and success. And about two-thirds of the way through, a young actor appears fully made up and disguised as a certain historical figure who in his youth was one of Mussolini’s most devoted admirers.
The film is comparable to Sorrentino’s earlier work, The Great Beauty, in that it deals with the brevity of life and the fear of death. Two rich and successful old men are engulfed in ennui and torpor during a spa break at a Swiss resort in stunningly beautiful surroundings. One is Fred Ballinger, a legendary English composer, who is currently being hounded by a Buckingham Palace aide to conduct a royal performance of his simple songs, an old and popular composition that he now finds boring. Ballinger, played by Michael Caine, is a former conductor of the Venice Symphony Orchestra, and the city is the scene of a superb flashback.
Harvey Keitel stars as the other, Mick Boyle, an aging film director working with increasing desperation on a tearful film titled The Last Day of Love that he hopes will be his legacy. But funding depends on casting his former lead, Brenda Morel, an excellent Jane Fonda cameo. Fred and Mick are old friends, further bonded by the fact that Ballinger’s beautiful daughter and assistant, Lena (Rachel Weisz), is married to Boyle’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard). As they lounge around the place, indulging their geriatric-machista self-pity and lamenting lost youth and lost sexual opportunities, they exchange idle conversation with another guest, cocky young Hollywood star Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano). They also get desperately angry with the recent Miss Universe winner (Madalina Ghenea) who likes to get naked in the Jacuzzi, while they are in it. her futile lust is just another reminder of death.
Visually, youth is as dazzling as anything Sorrentine has ever done, and the images it evokes are often wondrous, especially his gift for faces: staggeringly strange and sad, ugly or beautiful. i loved fred’s masseuse, played by luna zimic mijovic as a lanky mona lisa as she impassively tugs and shoves her leathery old limbs and then dances to nintendo wii’s just dance in her own bedroom.
fred and mick have a pleasantly cantankerous way of whining together, like statler and waldorf, endlessly worrying about whether they’ll be able to pee on any given day. They’re amusingly like Alec Baldwin’s character in the Nancy Meyers sitcom: he’s complicated, he has prostate problems, and he’s dependent on a vicious drug called Flomax. However, it’s less compelling and less interesting when Mick is assaulted with visions of every leading actress he’s ever worked with, surreally splattered like wax animatronics all over the vivid green hills. this subfellini twist feels indulgent and sugary.
Caine himself brings a languid haughtiness and inscrutability to the role. It may be that Sorrentino originally conceived this role for his usual leading lady, Italian star Toni Servillo. that casting can easily be imagined. But Caine’s graceful intonations and stillness make him highly watchable: at a couple of stages reading The Guardian, looking at an article by my colleague Rowena Mason on foreign aid. youth is an elegant and pale exercise of the sorrentino, but brilliant and passionate films like great beauty and the consequences of love show that he is capable of more than that.