Paolo Sorrentino’s last film was The Great Beauty, one of the best films in recent years—a masterly take on themes inspired by La Dolce Vita. Naturally, I went to see Youth with high hopes, not least because of a fantastic cast: Harvey Keitel, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz, amongst others. And so it was a massive disappointment that, despite moments of brilliance, this 8½ -like effort fell flat. It joins the company of other films that have attempted to follow Fellini’s lead (Stardust Memories and All That Jazz, to name just two), but does so without success.
It’s something of a buddy film about retired composer Fred (Caine) and his friend Mick (Keitel), a film director working on a screenplay that he thinks will be his masterpiece. The film’s greatest problem is that while both characters are interesting, there is not enough focus on them as individuals, rather than the relationship between the pair. A film highlighting one of these characters might have worked, but there is too much going on.
Both leads are on holiday in the Alps, where most of the film is set. Relaxation is disrupted when Fred is invited to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday by Queen Elizabeth, an invitation that he does not want to accept. Meanwhile, a cynical, obnoxious American actor called Boyle (Paul Dano) is also on the scene, and there are cameos from everyone from Paloma Faith (playing herself), slowcore singer Mark Kozelek, and an unrecognisable Fonda. Mick is working away on his script, Fred is wavering over his high-profile invite, and they spend a lot of time reminiscing about their younger years and early loves.
The opening is well-done, and there is a fantastic dream sequence, but it ends on a very sentimental note that I found strange—it didn’t seem warranted based on what had gone before. This end is a clear homage to Fellini and his underrated 1978 film Orchestra Rehearsal, but it isn’t half as good as its model. The soundtrack, featuring a series of whiny numbers by Mark Kozelek, also grates.
Perhaps Sorrentino should really stick to making Italian-language films. Youth simply doesn’t hold together as well as The Great Beauty, despite being beautifully shot. Sorrentino is a great visual filmmaker—his long-time cinematographer Luca Bigazzi is a gem. Youth doesn’t have the strangeness of his other English-language film, This Must Be the Place, to fall back on.
Drama | Italy, 2015 | 15 | Studiocanal UK | London Film Festival, 29th January 2016 (UK) | Dir. Paolo Sorrentino | Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda