Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino | 124 minutes | drama | Actors: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Mark Kozelek, Robert Seethaler, Alex Macqueen, Luna Zimic Mijovic, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Alex Beckett, Nate Dern, Mark Gessner, Paloma Faith, Ed Stoppard
Director Paolo Sorrentino won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2014 with his “La grande bellezza”. The film, as an ode to Fellini’s “La dolce vita,” tells through the eyes of an elderly journalist about the decadent beau monde of the Italian capital Rome. At the same time, it is a tribute to the vulnerable city itself. Old age and beauty go hand in hand without daring to let go of each other. Until death follows.
In the hands of Sorrentino, a film called “Youth” can hardly do anything but use the same theme. Ironically, the two main characters are indeed elderly men who experience the problems of old age firsthand. For example, a faltering prostate is the order of the day. But where in “La grande bellezza” the transience of the city of Rome was central, “Youth” is mainly focused on the fragile human psyche. Because that the body does not cooperate is one thing, but that also makes the mind drop is something that the oldies Fred Ballinger and Mick Boyle have a hard time living with.
Ballinger (Michael Caine) has left his days as a conductor and composer behind him and is quietly waiting for him to rejoin his wife. He no longer seems to have much life energy. When his daughter comes to report that she has been abandoned by her husband, he is especially helpless. His best friend Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is still trying to get the best out of his life. The screenwriter and director works with a group of young dogs on his magnum opus, a film testament that should make you forget all his earlier work. He has already roped in the world famous actress Brenda Morel. Nothing seems to stand in the way of success. However, the past is both a nostalgic source of joy and an insurmountable evil for both men.
The two acting guns strongly convey this ambiguous old age. Not only by showing their shakiness physically, but also by visibly suffering mentally as time passes. That all sounds gloomy, yet “Youth” is accompanied by a pleasant form of humor. Sorrentino regularly switches back and forth between those different emotions, causing “Youth” to gain in intensity. The musical diversity and great dialogues enhance that feeling.
The hotel / spa that serves as the setting for the film adds to the absurdity. At first glance, it looks like a place of pure serenity and beauty, high in the Swiss Alps. However, the guests staying there are folly itself. An actor trying to get into a movie role dressed as Adolf Hitler, a levitating Buddhist monk and former soccer player Diego Maradona inhabit the inn. As relics of the past, they are indelible. It is reminiscent of the spa town of Fellini’s “8½”, also a place where madness rules.
This is how Fellini comes into play again. But that one-dimensional comparison does not do “Youth” enough. Just as a comparison with Sorrentino’s award-winning “La grande bellezza” does little justice to his new film. Although the themes overlap in both films, “Youth” is completely different. Fresh. Emotional. But also full of black humor from time to time. In this sense, “Youth” is primarily an ode to eternal youth.