Returning from the tremendous success of The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino now bestows upon us the gift of Youth. Vacationing in the Alps with his daughter, a retired composer is invited to conduct his work, one last time – this time, for royalty. He firmly declines. Meanwhile his best friend, an ageing movie director, works on his latest film. Within their hotel reside numerous other guests including a heavily overweight but incredibly and mysteriously famous man, a philosophical actor researching his next role and a couple who never utter a word to one another. Youth shares a great deal with recent art-house hit The Lobster; both set in oddly cold and unfriendly hotels. Our expectations are challenged by a film that combines the surreal, the nasty and the emotional. With its stellar cast, inviting cinematography and unpredictability, Youth is something of an unsettling but satisfying experience. As the title implies, Youth explores the spirit and spark still ever present in the elderly, celebrating life and legacy. Meanwhile, there are dark and twisted tales to be told which bubble over with nastiness in a film that turns out to be an unsettling exploration into the depths of the human condition. When his daughter finds her marriage in tatters, our conductor must help her to process her feelings, soon to discover she harbors many ill feelings towards him. Every character seems plagued by disillusion in some form or another making this the central theme of Youth.
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are the ageing friends who find no peace and quiet in their tranquil surroundings. Daily massages, steams in the sauna and evening performances in the hotel can’t free their demons. Keitel is delusional and optimistic within his delusion – a terribly dangerous combination. Michael Caine is dignified and closed off but equally troubled and tormented. Rachel Weisz is staggering as Caine’s daughter and the energy that flows between both men. Weisz was also in The Lobster, yet another comparison to make between the two films. Here she is vicious and passionate – one particular monologue overflows with anger and resentment. Each line she delivers carries a bite. She’s a staggering actress; one who’s picking wonderful films – a delightful combination. Paul Dano drifts in and out of the feature, as the actor and deep thinker who enjoys the company of the conductor. He mainly observes and occasionally comments, giving the film scope and provoking ideas. It’s important to stress just how nasty this film is. It is at times deeply troubling and horrifying and then, in alternative moments, it is elegant, caring and full of sentiment. The blurring of lines makes it a hard pill to swallow but one from which you reap the benefits as the film draws to a close. There are great dollops of comedy folded into the more surreal and sinister segments. Youth is very much a film in disguise and more certainly not for the faint hearted. As ever, Sorrentino is keen to shock and appal whilst also eager to captivate – he succeeds in doing both, in various, surprising ways. Youth is a harrowing and heartfelt reminder that we’re all isolated and alone in some form or another – be it by our own doing or through the actions of others.
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