Film Review – Youth (2016)

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There’s something slightly gaudy about the goings-on in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth. As you watch the clearly immeasurably moneyed folks, well-dressed for dinner and appropriately styled, waltzing about the grounds of a spacious, immaculate Swiss spa, one gets the sensation of being cuffed about the head with a thick ski-holiday catalogue. I felt like something of an imposter as I watched middle-aged, middle-class so-and-so’s doing lengths of the thermal pool. And yet, perhaps because it is so lovely to look at, Youth maintains a near-spotless sense of charm. Credit should also go to the Harvey Keitel and particularly Michael Caine who, as a pair of frustrated, melancholy artistes, positively stink of pathos as they reminisce in the shadow of the Alps.

Caine plays retired composer Fred Ballinger who, while holidaying at a luxurious spa, is approached by a royal emissary with an offer to conduct his famed Simple Songs at a special concert for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday. Ballinger refuses on the grounds that his wife, who is no longer able to sing, traditionally sung the part. Keitel is Mick Boyle, a writer and film director working on his latest, and hopefully greatest, movie. Along with his cabal of eager underlings, Boyle is pouring his heart and soul into a work he expects to be his finest and is referred to as his ‘testament’.

Together, they are joined by Ballinger’s daughter (Rachel Weisz) acting as his assistant, a fantastically obese Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano) and the contemplative Hollywood star Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) who is preparing for his next movie role. Between the two of them, Ballinger and Boyle observe their enigmatic and colourful neighbours, complain about their prostates and ponder old relationships.

Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography, lingering on the thawing peaks of the Graubünden countryside, is a sumptuous treat. There are also ingenious, simple and tender moments of wit as the gaggle of disparate characters interact; Serrano’s Maradona has a few neat moments of humour amidst the Caine-Keitel platonic love. There’s also welcome sense of nostalgia and affection as Fred and Mick bicker about past girlfriends, and dwell on their mistakes.

An over-the-credits postscript of sorts feels like something of a backtrack for one of the characters, if not a complete headlong dive into sentimentality, but Sorrentino’s script feels, on the whole, like a genuinely lovely contemplation of life. That said, a Paloma Faith-related repeat offender rears its head a couple of times to take some of the gloss, and feeling of maturity, off what is otherwise an accomplished film.

Chris Banks

Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | Studiocanal | 29th January 2016 (UK) | Dir.Paolo Sorrentino |Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Roly Serrano