Youth vaunts itself as an unabashedly cinematic film. Paolo Sorrentino’s latest offering knows just how sumptuous and clever it is and is in no way ashamed to flaunt rich colours, startling compositions and overwhelming talent to point a satirical finger at the glitz and glamour of stardom. Awash with admiration for the beauty of images on show, an audience is to lap up every glistening, perfect moment; to hell with modesty or self-deprecation. Savour certain moments you will but as the curtain comes down with a performance of its apparently Oscar-worthy song, the lasting impression is not a fulfilling one. Youth serves up delicately presented haute cuisine instead of a hardy pub lunch.
Upon receiving the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for The Great Beauty, Sorrentino accredited both Federico Fellini and Diego Maradonna as sources of inspiration. Bizarrely, the influence of both is acutely felt here in an overtly self-indulgent exploration of fame, stereotypes and prejudices as well as a recurrent lament on memory, growing old and the quest for redemption. Set in a kind of real-life Grand Budapest Hotel, Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel) – a retired composer and filmmaker on the slide respectively – take to a retreat in the Swiss Alps for some R&R. Consider it a cross between the vibrant madness of Wes Anderson’s creation and Billy Connolly growing old disgracefully in Quartet’s home for retired virtuosos to the backdrop of breathtaking scenery. Linking the two old pals is Lena (Rachel Weisz), daughter to Fred, daughter-in-law to Mick; the dissolution of her marriage one of multiple threads.
Elsewhere, an obsequious royal emissary fails to convince Fred to perform for the Queen and Mick attempts to finalise his latest, and greatest, project which is set to feature the great Brenda Morel – a show-stopping cameo from Jane Fonda. Paul Dano flits in and out of focus as a philosophical and misunderstood Hollywood star preparing a new role; Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea) demonstrates there’s more to her than meets many pairs of ogling eyes; an obese South American footballer plays keepy-ups with a tennis ball. Amongst all the momentary shots – admittedly framed with a painterly eye by Sorrentino regular Luca Bigazzi – the only instance of genuine emotion occurs as Weisz lambastes her father for years of a cold aloofness for which she still carries a bitter resentment.
Confined to a mud bath at the time, the coiled rage she expresses is voiced with real venom, it’s just a shame there isn’t more for the actors to really get their teeth into. Keitel and Caine form a likeable double act and create the kind of warmth and ease of interaction that makes their lifelong friendship entirely believable. Whether through the onset of senility or not, conversations on the same subject are a recurring theme of walks through the alpine countryside. It’s ironic, then, that Youth is unlikely to live too long in the memory. As a writer-director, Sorrentino is an unquestionable talent; it would just be nice if he didn’t rely on such pretentious contrivances to tell us what we already know.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens