YOUTH (Italy | Switzerland | UK | France/15A/118mins)
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Paloma Faith, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda.
THE PLOT: Returning to the Swiss holiday destination he always visited with his wife, retired English composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) finds himself reflecting over his life, with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), Fred finds himself hassled by the Palace to perform his famous Simple Songs for the Queen, a request he consistently denies.
THE VERDICT: Paolo Sorrentino returns to Cannes with YOUTH, an often claustrophobic and introspective film about getting older and what we hold on to. Michael Caine is at the centre of a film and, when we are introduced to him, he is rebuffing the Queen’s emissary, who is requesting his services to celebrate Prince Philip’s birthday. Although we are later told that his music always came first, to the detriment of his family, Caine has a fatherly quality here – perhaps because Ballinger has retired – even going so far as to help a young kid play violin better. Caine plays Ballinger as a man struggling with both the loss of his youth and his inability to remember much of it, even though it is these experiences who made he is the person today. Harvey Keitel plays against Caine very well; Mick still holding onto the past and funnelling this energy into making his new film, while staying positive about getting older, but slowly revealing his self worth to be hugely tied in with his ego. Rachel Weisz returns to Cannes as Ballinger’s daughter Lena, a woman who relationship has just ended, sending her life into chaos, and who is trying to reconcile this with her new relationship with her father. Paul Dano plays Mick; a young actor who, rather arrogantly, believes that he and Ballinger have made similar mistakes in his career, although Dno is at the beginning of his, and Caine has made the decision to end his own.
Sorrentino’s screenplay is heavily dialogue focused, wth characters hashing out their fears and concerns in conversation. That said, there is a touch of typical Sorrentino elegance, with beautiful dream sequences interspersing the film. There are also several strange moments, such as a couple who never talk to one another being the subject of Caine and Keitel’s fascinations, Dano having a makeup test for a role as Hitler and turning up to dinner in full make up, and Weisz’s character apparently falling for a man whose sole purpose seems to be to teach her to climb.
As director, Sorrentino allows the film to focus on Caine and Keitel, and while their chemistry on screen is wonderful, this is also one of the problems with the film, as it gives Youth a feeling of claustrophobia, as though the characters are deliberately shut off from the world, and have no desire to be part of it. There are a couple of laughs here and there, and Caine’s eventual redemption is a thing of beauty, although it comes at the end of some almost insufferable pacing woes.
In all, YOUTH is a dialogue about the time in our lives that forms who we are, and the inability to remember it. Caine and Keitel are great together, Dano’s experiments with stillness are lovely and Jane Fonda has a wonderful cameo late in the film. There are some issues with pacing and self indulgence from time to time, but there is plenty going on in YOUTH to give audiences food for thought.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Youth
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Food for thought
  • filmbuff2011

    Youth is undoubtedly a Paolo Sorrentino film. The Italian director has delivered yet another distinctive cinematic offering for film buffs and admirers alike. It also has the stylistic flourishes, measured pacing and visual appeal of his earlier films like The Consequences Of Love, Il Divo and This Must Be The Place.

    Fred (Michael Caine) is a retired composer and conductor seeking out peace and relaxation at a Swiss health spa in the Alps. His health may be deteriorating, so his even more fragile daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) watches over him – when she’s not breaking down herself. Fred’s loyal friend Mick (Harvey Keitel) is a director putting together a script with a group of writers for a pretentious-sounding film called Life’s Last Day. The fact that he has so many writers who are unable to think of a decent ending is an in-joke that runs throughout the film. The two of them interact with various other characters at the spa, including Jimmy (Paul Dano), who struggles to get past the fact that his most recognisable role is as a robot in a 200lb suit, and Brenda (Jane Fonda). Fred is being tempted out of retirement by the Queen’s emissary, to perform for Prince Phillip’s birthday. But he resists the idea for a very personal reason, one that is connected to the past…

    As with The Great Beauty, Sorrentino is once again aping Italian auteur Federico Fellini. If there’s a connecting film here, it’s 8½. Mick is haunted by memories of the great actresses whose careers he launched, including Brenda, the one who got away. This is illustrated in a surreal sequence towards the end where all these women assemble, in character, across a hill – just like the ones that torment Marcello Mastroianni in 8½. Unlike that film though, Youth is more entertaining and less boring (this reviewer has never been a fan of Fellini). If Sorrentino keeps this level of respectful borrowing up, he might be labelled the Italian Tarantino. He’s a director who made his name on originality, so he doesn’t need to borrow really.

    The story is told at a deliberately relaxed pace, allowing the audience to soak in the setting, characters and atmosphere of the environment. Patience is needed, but it’s certainly rewarded. Caine and Keitel make a great double-act, but their characters are so clearly defined and well-portrayed that they exist on an individual basis too. This is a film in which aging and acceptance of the past are important themes, but there’s an undercurrent of youth running through it. Not so much in some of the younger actors, but in the themes of the way time moves on and the way it influences our lives. There are some brief mis-steps in the film, such as a brash, perhaps deliberately so, appearance by singer Paloma Faith. However, there’s not a huge amount to fault in this film. The visual and aural storytelling is beautiful and evocative enough to resonate after the credits roll – the trademark of a Sorrentino film. Fans of his work like reviewer will find much to admire here. Newcomers will find this a welcome introduction. ****

  • emerb

    “Youth” is Paolo Sorrentino’s latest comedy-drama and the follow up to his Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty”. Set almost entirely in a mysterious but extravagant and elegant spa hotel nestled near the Swiss Alps, it stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as two aging artist friends with different ideas about how to end their creative careers. The secluded hotel is a destination for the rich and famous looking to relax and get away from it all so makes the perfect spot for the two friends of 60 years who spend their summers together roaming the resort and reminiscing about the good old days. Both actors give their best material in years. Michael Caine, still looking great at the grand old age of 82, gives a performance that ranks up there among the best of his distinguished career. The setting for the film is luxurious and picturesque and we are constantly treated to ravishing images of snow-capped mountains, rich green fields, vast meadows or deep blue skies. The film itself could be viewed as a meditation on aging, creativity, friendship, love, loss, wisdom, disillusionment, pain.

    Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a legendary British composer and conductor who is retired and has fallen into gloomy idleness. Even the presence of his daughter, his romantically troubled but supportive daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), can’t fully bring him back to life. She is still simmering with resentment because he was never around for her and constantly reminds him of the selfishness of his lifelong dedication to his music and poor treatment of her now deceased mother. She is even more distressed about her breakup with a philandering husband, after being dumped for a brash pop diva (Paloma Faith, playing herself). An emissary of Buckingham Palace has arrived to plead with Fred to return to London to conduct one concert of his most celebrated compositions, “Simple Songs,” in exchange for a knighthood. Fred repeatedly declines for “personal reasons,” which turn out to be heartbreaking when the emissary finally forces him to explain.

    A famous American film director, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is the ideal friend for as he chats about their lively pasts and eagerly discusses his chances for a comeback. Unlike Fred, he has chosen to go on working and he’s convinced that his latest project, Life’s Last Day, will be a masterpiece. He spends long hours at the resort trying working with four thirtysomething screenwriters to help him finish
    the script, a drama he expects will reunite him with legendary actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), who he discovered decades ago. In between working with his cast and screenwriters, the two men go for long walks and compare notes on physical maladies, such as prostate problems, memory problems and past loves. Or they luxuriate with treatments in the spa, wallow in its pools, even letting a teenage masseuse stroke their bodies.

    A host of other intriguing and rather odd characters are staying at the spa too which liven things up.There’s a morbidly obese, asthmatic Maradona – played by a lookalike – with a huge Karl Marx bust tattooed on his back. There is the famous but troubled Hollywood actor (Paul Dano) who is researching a new role, but frets that he’ll only ever be remembered for playing a pedestrian superhero. There’s the teenage masseuse with a variety of ambitions and skill sets, a stunning and buxom Miss Universe, a rather melancholy and bespectacled prostitute, and a Buddhist monk who is rumoured to be able to levitate. It all sounds rather bizarre and yes, it is but somehow it just works.

    “Youth” may be rather scant on plot but it moves along nicely with its rather stylized and eccentric storylines and a series of unexpected surprises along the way. For example, Jane Fonda surfaces late on as Keitel’s ex-collaborator, bringing a fresh energy into the proceedings to spark things up. The director also appears to have a fixation on recurring nude females wandering around the resort! The director’s talents and attention to detail are remarkable and I was swept away by the stunning visuals, the gorgeous photography, the wistful soundtrack and the top class acting. Attracting younger audiences to a film about mostly older folk at a Swiss spa might be a challenge, but a decent commercial career looks possible with good critical review and word of mouth. While rumination and regret may dominate, “Youth” is primarily about finding peace and happiness in your later life. While the quirky comedy style and structure might not be to everybody’s taste, I thought it was witty, wise and emotional and I enjoyed watching this movie.