DVD Review – Youth (2015)

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An apt title for a film principally about age. Fred (Michael Caine) is a retiring composer on holiday in the remote alpine surroundings of the Alps. The picturesque hotel is the primary location for the film, this being almost ideal since the characters only remove themselves from everyday life. Fred not wishing to discuss his greatest work, or even think about bringing himself out of retirement to perform it. He finds friends in the similarly elderly famous film director (Harvey Keitel). The narrative develops as the two look outwards on the lives of their confused offspring, and Fred is offered an opportunity to conduct once again.

For its’ merits; a stellar cast (which also includes Jane Fonda, Paul Dano, and Rachel Weisz), particularly close attention to detail in the cinematography, and clever audio visual editing; it doesn’t quite add up. The narrative isn’t particularly strong. In part this is the fault of Michael Caine‘s character – he isn’t likeable in any sense. Even in his “banter” with Mick (Keitel), he comes across dry and fed up. Due to this, ‘Youth‘ seems pretty inaccessible to any audience demographic.

The films’ subject matter (love and loss in old age) is often watered down, and in several sequences we see Fred talk to the other characters [about age] in either a patronising or laboured way. It can get a bit exhausting. His apathy is made immediate to the audience as he asks “my daughter says I’m apathetic, is it that obvious?” – the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ rule being broken here. All in all the characters (old and young) are meant to be wise. Michael Caine is wise (always, surely?), Paul Dano is wise, Rachel Weisz is wise. Only, they all claim to be wise, but there wisdom is contradicted in the narrative development somehow. If the film is about anything, then it is about false wisdom.

The use of sound is interesting. The film opens with a lounge act covering ‘You’ve Got the Love’ by Florence and The Machine; an almost too obvious choice, but if the intended result is that we are meant to look down on the hotel then why does the lead choose to stay there? Arguably to the detriment of the film, we also get a strange cameo appearance from Paloma Faith. This speaks volumes really, the whole thing being a bit ill considered. In one scene Fred conducts sounds from sheep whilst looking over a field. Again, this being an interesting audio visual choice on paper, but with little purpose on screen.

We get some great moments. There are some well-considered extreme close-ups, notably one of a tennis ball. The camera captures different areas of the hotel with an all-seeing eye. It is only a pity that the themes and narrative do not amount to any kind of revelation. You get bothered that the characters seem to be jumping through hoops throughout the film. With urgency this would be greatly improved, a shame for such a promising premise.

[rating=2] | Zach Roddis

Drama, World Cinema | Italy, 2015 | 15 | Studiocanal | 30th May 2016 (UK) | Dir. Paolo Sorrentino |Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda |Buy: Youth [DVD] [2016]