Two lifelong friends ponder retirement while vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge. While Fred has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena, Mick is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda. And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy, an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance?

3.5
Youth skilfully evokes the joy and melancholy of time as it passes, the yearning for new experience that drives us on even as our ability to seize it wanes.

Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film doesn’t hit the heights of his 2013 effort The Great Beauty; that film’s near-perfect mix of longing and cynicism set the bar at a height he hasn’t cleared since. But Youth skilfully evokes the joy and melancholy of time as it passes, the yearning for new experience that drives us on even as our ability to seize it wanes.

In a spa resort in the Swiss Alps, two old friends are facing the latest stage of their artistic careers in very different ways. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired composer and conductor, is being pestered by an emissary of the Queen (a very funny Alex McQueen) to return to London and conduct a performance of his best-loved work 'Simple Songs'. He refuses, for "personal reasons" that he refuses to specify. Meanwhile his friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) has come to the resort with a team of writers to work on the script for his next film, titled Life’s Last Day. These two friends are also in-laws, as Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), is married to Mick’s son, Julian (Ed Stoppard) – until Julian announces he’s running off with singer Paloma Faith (playing a parody of herself in a music video that’s a comedic highlight). Also in attendance is Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), an actor looking to branch out from his much-loved robot character 'Mister Q' and believing his feeling of being trapped by audience expectations has much in common with Fred’s struggle with 'Simple Songs'; less amicable is Mick’s long-time collaborator, movie star Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), who he’s desperately trying to lure into one last film together.

The dialogue is warm and insightful, the images – as in a scene where Mick imagines all his female characters dotting a hillside – striking. But those words and images almost never come together.

Much of what little story there is here is dialogue-driven, broken up by gorgeous visuals from Sorrentino’s long-time collaborator, cinematographer Luca Bigazzi. Caine and Keitel give very different but equally strong performances, and while the cliché of old men talking about their prostate problems makes an appearance, mostly their chats wander through their pasts – pasts that Mick realises he can no longer remember large stretches of. The glories of young women (and occasionally men in Fred’s case) are also lingered over, though Lena gets a searing speech taking her father to task for all the neglect that lay under his philandering. The dialogue is warm and insightful, the images – as in a scene where Mick imagines all his female characters dotting a hillside – striking. But those words and images almost never come together; too often when one is making a mark the other is nowhere to be found. The result is a film that only feels complete in isolated moments; when Fred is "conducting" a mooing herd of cows, or Morel has a breakdown on a plane.

At one stage, Fred and Mick spy on an elderly couple making love in a forest; returned to the state of little boys, this brief scene says more about the foolishness of age – what changes in us and what never does – than many of the long, leisurely chats that make up much of this poetic, at times poignant film.

 

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Details

1 hour 58 min
In Cinemas 24 December 2015,

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