"visually stunning, with some beautiful shots of the Swiss Alps that seem to have been lifted from some kind of landscape painting"
Growing old is something that happens to all of us whether we like it or not, and it’s a subject that has fascinated filmmakers for decades. One such filmmaker is acclaimed Italian director Paolo Sorrentino who has made it the subject of his latest film, the comedy-drama Youth, which looks at the ever-present struggle to hold on to our memories and lives as we grow old as they begin to fade.
The story follows Englishman Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a respected composer of classical music being tempted out of retirement for one last performance, and American film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), as they reflect on their careers, lives, loves, and losses while holidaying in a luxurious hotel in the Swiss Alps. Joining the two in the hotel are Ballinger’s daughter/assistant Lena (Rachel Weisz) who has joined her father following the break-up of her marriage to Boyle’s son and frustrated actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) who is preparing for his latest role.
This film has an impeccable cast with not a single bad performance amongst them. Keitel is magnificent and moving as the ageing director; working away on his latest cinematic work that he is certain will be his ‘testament’, yet struggling to come up with a satisfying ending to the story, perhaps not wanting his own story to end. Weisz is also on fantastic form as the heartbroken daughter of Ballinger, confused and angry after the break-up of her marriage, with her stand-out scene being a brutal tirade about her father’s numerous infidelities and betrayal of her mother, all while enjoying a nice relaxing spa session. Jane Fonda makes a memorable albeit brief appearance as the ageing, make-up drenched screen diva Breda Morel, who issues a brutal verdict of the state of Boyle’s career and reputation; lamenting the death of cinema and the dominance of television in the fight over audiences. Dano is also on top form as the frustrated Dee, but is disappointingly not given very much focus, but he does an exemplary job nonetheless with his part, and is given one of the more memorable surreal moments of the film.
However, its standout is that of Caine, finally returning as a lead with so long as a supporting player in recent blockbusters. Caine masterfully portrays Ballinger as a man who has lived a life full success, but it is also a life full of concealed regret and anguish. Caine has many standout scenes and to list them all and why they are so wonderful would take too long. So instead I will say this: Ballinger easily ranks as one of the best in the actor’s 50-year career.
Youth is visually stunning, with some beautiful shots of the Swiss Alps that seem to have been lifted from some kind of landscape painting. The visual mastery also extends the brilliant staging of several surreal sequences, such as Doyle envisioning all of his previous leading ladies gathered together on a hillside, or Jimmy dining alone in full hair and makeup for his latest film role, that of Adolf Hitler, surrounded by stunned onlookers.
The gorgeous visuals are complemented by the film’s excellent score; with the standout being the Oscar nominated Simple Song #3 performed in the film’s climax. It’s a truly stunning piece of cinematic music which I recommend listening to on its own once the film has ended - it’s simply brilliant.
While dramatic for the most part, it also has its share of comedic moments, such as a recurring bet of Boyle and Ballinger as to whether a seemingly mute couple will ever speak to each other; a bet whose conclusion certainly comes as a surprise to everyone, in a hilariously awkward venture into the woods.
I could continue writing about the numerous magnificent qualities of this film, but then my review would go on forever and ever. So I’ll wrap it up by saying I implore you to go and watch Youth. A truly terrific film, with beautiful visuals, a stellar cast, and one of the greatest performances from one of Britain’s most iconic screen legends.