With great beauty comes this comedy/drama about life and most deep aspects surrounding that topic. It’s a very gentle affair with a sort of wavy slow amble at a story but how it looks and how it’s acted does make this Italian English language film a worthwhile and stylish study on the issue of age.
Retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is staying at a spa/clinic/hotel resort in the Swiss Alps, it also happens that one of his close friends is too. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is an ageing writer and director. The pair of them discuss their past, their future and what they’re known for.
Paolo Sorrentino directs this promenade of cinema with such precision like he himself is a maestro to rival Ballinger. The scenes move with a flighty fluidity and practically every moment is full of class detail, be it with the location or the character which means every shot is something special. After his astounding and Oscar winning 2013 movie ‘The Great Beauty’ it’s clear this man is someone to watch as he knows how to make a film look stunning.
It’s like this feature is a lullaby of film-making, the soft touches to each moment being dealt with effortlessly which does help us linger and mull over the thematic questions possibly being raised at those times. The story may not be big or constantly felt but there is a larger presence of life that lingers with true grace and bitter emotion. As one of the youngest audience members of the screening I can still say I enjoyed and grasped the poignancy of the narrative, it’s a touching and affirming plot even if it does meander from time to time.
Sorrentino also writes for the movie, providing undeniable looks at love and loss, life and death and these themes made me feel like I was experiencing something, perhaps not profound as he desired but at the very least it’s entrancing. There’s a neat absurdity to the writing which is seen amongst the ritualistic movings of the Switzerland patients or in the comic dialogue spoken, the discussion about a dining couple stands out as one of these quirkier points.
I can’t complete this review without including my favourite moment, the scene leapt out to me with such sublime spine-tingling creativity and it’s when Keitel’s character looks back at his career and movies with a crowd of female stars presented in the sunshine on a Swiss hill. It looked amazing and provoked a true sense of wonder and regret at this section in his life. The Paloma Faith cameo and monstrous imagined music video is another note to the absurdest quality and how oddly fun this film is.
David Lang rightfully gets a nod for the upcoming Oscars with Simple Song #3, which is amusing considering how Ballinger wishes to be known for something else. Though it’s a moving and beautiful piece of music so it deserves the recognition and it fits in the crescendo of the movie rather well. The music is one of the strongest elements which grows in volume and enhances the scenes with extra grandeur. Sound is also important here, it’s very interesting as we hear cowbells or wrappers become tools for character behaviour and development.
Michael Caine is hypnotic and showcases one of his better dramatic roles. He plays the reserved patient composer at times but bounces against that when necessary with engaging comedic timing. Harvey Keitel is also funny and counters the comedy pairing moments with the growing concern he has about the directions of his films but also his own life. Jane Fonda is wickedly talented as the dolled up ageing screen gem, her strength is when opposite Keitel and knowing what she wants and getting it. Paul Dano is stellar and always impresses me, here is no different as he mostly watches on as studying/preparing screen actor, yet he’s watchable even when silent. Wait for it though as he’s utterly transformative when he inhabits one of the most recognisable looks in the world for his latest role. Rachel Weisz is strong as Caine’s daughter and gives the most physical emotion to the film with her relationship drama.
‘Youth’ may hover wearily on the verges of brilliance but it’s still a heartfelt operatic piece of cinema with spirited performances and thoughtful beauty.