Sorrentino’s Youth is bizarre and disconcerting from start to finish. Two elderly men, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired composer, and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a screenwriter and director, are holidaying at a luxurious Swiss health resort, a stunning backdrop for a film that is permeated by grief, regret, and wit in equal measure.
Jimmy, an actor who cannot escape the regretful role of a robot (Paul Dano), Ballinger’s daughter/assistant Lena (Rachel Weisz), and Brenda (Jane Fonda), a screen siren set to star in Boyle’s new film all appear, their characters allowing the film to expand beyond the older stars. In this way, the very idea of youth itself is manifested: What is it to have youth? Does this transcend age and become a mind-set? Each character is at a different stage in their life and career, and yet they all face crises of identity, needing to make decisions that challenge set ways of thinking. Youth, therefore, becomes something that needs to be reattained, regardless of age itself.
In terms of plot, the story is linear, without much significant action. Nonetheless, the wry characters keep entertainment at a constant, with genuine laugh out loud moments of script being interposed with poignant insights into the nature of life and love; honestly dark and yet not depressing reflections on parenthood, friendship and success, make this film intelligent and philosophical, without being pretentious. When action takes place, it is momentary but shocking, jolting you out of a slow and dream-like state that the film creates. We move past these, however, as soon as we come to them. Sorrentino deals with these grand themes in a way that meditates not on the pinnacles, but the reflective stillness that surrounds such moments.
Youth’s beautiful cinematography is perhaps its most striking attribute, vibrantly modern throughout, keeping the eye excited and senses alert. There is nothing conventional about the shots, which cut through each other sharply and are at times, all together abstract. We see cows conducted to play a symphony, walking on water, and Paloma Faith surrounded by flames and fast cars. These absurdities are not brash, and manage to fit harmoniously with the subject of life and human nature, despite their artificiality.
Parts of the film fail to be entirely congruent, the moments of Mick’s scriptwriting workshops at times feel forced, and highly sexualised and politicized moments such as Ballinger’s interactions as a masseuse and Jimmy appearing as Hitler, feel superfluous and out of place in a way that becomes uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the fractional nature of Youth comes together in a way that is mostly interesting and intriguing.
Is it worth watching?
+ Visually amazing
Watch the trailer for Youth
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