YOUTH directed by Paolo Sorrentino (Italy, 2015)

1youth3“Youth is wasted on the young”, quipped Oscar Wilde, or was is George Bernard Shaw?

Whoever made this observation, knew something of the poignancy and sadness of growing old.

All Paolo Sorrentino’s films to date have featured elderly characters struggling to come to terms with the realisation that the best years of their lives are almost certainly behind them. Youth , despite its title, is no exception.Paradoxically, it is more about facing up to the inevitability of dying than the carefree pleasures of our ‘salad days’.

At its heart is the friendship between a retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) a film director who believes that he still has at least one great film in him.

ayouth2Most of the action takes place in a sanitorium in Switzerland where the two men are on holiday.

The expensively appointed hotel caters predominantly for elderly, and wealthy, patrons who are able to take advantage of its top class restaurant, lavish open air evening entertainment, massage parlours and saunas or can go on bracing walks in an idylllic setting.

One younger guest is Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) a movie actor who resting before taking what he anticipates what will be a challenging role in a German film. Other patrons of note are a very obese Diego Maradona (played by Argentinian Roly Serrano) and the gorgeous Rumanian model Madalina Diana Ghenea as Miss Universe.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine

The body culture that is so much a part of Italian culture plays a major part in the look of the movie although since most of the semi or wholly naked bodies are those of old men and women the effect of this cannot be deemed voyeuristic. The exception is where ‘Miss Universe’ takes a skinny dip in the hotel’s swimming pool with Fred and Mick as appreciative onlookers (an image that features on the current Italian posters).

A less than flattering cameo by Jane Fonda as one of Mick’s former starlets shows how no attempt is made to gloss over the ravages of the ageing process.

In many ways this is a little harsh on Fonda who in real life is far better preserved 78-year-old than this on-screen role suggests.

The rock at the heart of the movie is an outstanding performance by Michael Caine who manages to convey a sense of elegance and dignity yet also convincing portrays of a man burdened by his past mistakes. Notably, he comes to recognise how his focus on his work led to the neglect of his daughter (played by Rachel Weisz).

Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino

The movie is beautifully shot, with a Felliniesque attention to detail and it is significant that the film is dedicated to another towering figure of Italian cinema, Francesco Rosi, who died in January 2015.

As with both those directors, the distinctiveness of Sorrentino’s cinematic language lies in the way he incorporates extravagant visual sequences and, like Fellini, loves to create surreal set pieces.

Sorrentino makes no apology for the fact that he is mainly interested in the lives of artists, models and footballers and has never pretended to be a social realist.

Another aspect that makes this movie so memorable is the intelligent use of a diversity of musical styles to establish a range of moods. The casting of retro pop singer Paloma Faith (as herself) doesn’t really fit so well but this is more than compensated for by highlights which include the measured balladry of Mark Kozelek, a dramatic piece by Godspeed!You Black Emperor and, in a climactic scene, opera singer Sumi Jo performing a ‘simple song’ ostensibly written Fred Ballinger but actually composed by David Lang.

Youth doesn’t achieve the artistic heights of the oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza but it nevertheless confirms Paolo Sorrentino as one of the most gifted filmmakers on the planet right now.