Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano
R for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Can man’s ego be underplayed by his own sorrow? Youth is everything but titular in its exploration of old men refusing to let go of the past when their present endeavors are mired either in grief or desperation.
Famed Italian director Paulo Sorrentino’s first English-language feature is a meandering contemplation on getting old and refusing to live in the present. The film stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel who deliver solid performances as best friends living in a Swiss resort surrounded by strange and miserable people.
Caine is a retired composer approached by a representative of Queen Elizabeth II who wants him to conduct a performance of his “Simple Song #3” at his knighting ceremony. In deep sorrow after the loss of his wife, he refuses, sending the man back to England to convey his refusal. Caine’s melancholy is palpable and gives the film some needed emotional depth.
Keitel plays an aging screenwriter working on his final film, hoping to lure his longtime muse (Jane Fonda) to star in his movie. Surrounded by a bizarre cadre of collaborators, Keitel’s passion and warmth is a vast departure from the deadly goons and villains he’s become known for playing. Together, the two salvage a film that is too subservient to its own ego.
Sorrentino’s previous films, Il Divo and The Great Beauty, explore the fragility of the male ego as society and their brittle existences crumble around them. Although Youth doesn’t set itself in the midst of outwardly interfering turmoil, it does look at the old man’s mind as it comes to terms with both the loss of a loved one (Caine’s story) and the loss of one’s importance within the film community (Keitel’s).
Although Sorrentino may be speaking somewhat from personal experience, he’s only 50 years old and Divo, based on actual events, was released twelve years ago, undercutting the notion that he’s grafting his own escapades onto the characters he presents. That few of his films deal with female characters suggests that Youth is more emblematic of a generational and societal shift on social issues away from the white male-dominated culture that had previously existed.
Youth wants to be so much more than it really is. While there are some keen observations on what drives men to produce works of great art and how that influence affects those around them, the film struggles to find a concept that hasn’t been approached countless times by countless filmmakers, including Sorrentino’s Italian predecessor Federico Fellini whose own work was a bit more absurd than Sorrentino’s and even better contemplated.
October 6, 2020