An elegant and enigmatic drama, Youth focuses upon holidaymakers at a beautiful establishment at the foot of the Swiss Alps and two of them in particular. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) are two very old friends.
Fred, a composer and conductor, is now retired. He’s been coming to the same place for more than 20 years. Now he is set to receive a knighthood from the Queen and he is prevailed upon by one of her staff to come out of retirement to perform one of his works at a Royal Gala performance. But Fred has no intention of doing so, citing personal reason for not wanting to be a part of it. The Queen’s emissary is agog, but determined to persist in his efforts.
Mick, a film director, is still working and with him is a young crew and a couple of actors crafting the latest in a long line of screenplays, one he expects to be his magnum opus. In his sights to play the lead role is Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), a woman he has worked with the best part of a dozen times before; only she has other ideas. Fred and Mick look with curiosity, tenderness and longing at their children’s confused lives and at the lives of the other hotel guests of all ages, including a world famous soccer player, an actor (Paul Dano) and Miss Universe.
Also starring Rachel Weisz as Caine’s daughter and personal assistant, Youth is beautiful to look at and quite a bewitching and intoxicating film. It is so rich and beguiling that you almost feel like you could smell and touch and enmesh yourself in what appears on the screen in front of you. It contrasts the beauty and dexterities of youth with the vagaries and pitfalls of old age. Art house rather than mainstream, it is a poignant reminder of the transitory nature of life, of human existence.
Writer and director Paolo Sorrentino won the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for the highly perplexing, overly hyped The Great Beauty. Although not fully spelt out either, Youth is far more accessible and engaging. This is Sorrentino’s seventh film.
The Great Beauty was a study of the decadence of the present through the lens offered by the city of Rome. Youth is primarily the story of an 80 year old who is trying to come to terms with the realisation that time is rapidly running out for him.
Music has always been an important component in the director’s films and in Youth it plays an immensely significant role. Although maintaining that he does not miss music, Fred feels its presence everywhere and seeks it out almost unconsciously. Sorrentino collaborated with American composer and 2008 Pulitzer Music Prize winner, David Lang, who composed the original score (and whose soundtrack was used in the opening scenes of The Great Beauty).
Caine is so much more comfortable with an honourable vehicle like this than in the awful The Last Witch Hunter, a project I can only imagine he took on for the pay cheque.
Youth is a truly inspiring and creative work. It is a poignant story of friendship, family, love, loss and the yearning to makes sense of it all that scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda
Release Date: 26 December 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television