Paolo Sorrentino‘s Youth is a visually poetic, beautifully captured, symphony-like film, which is what Sorrentino does, of course. This has been his signature style in The Great Beauty and Il Divo (let’s ignore This Must Be The Place for now) and here’s the same tray of gourmet delights — deliciously photographed, serenely scored, composition for composition’s sake, drop-dead delectable, etc. And at the same time Youth is rather languid and swoony and a touch melancholy from time to time, and dryly amusing whenever Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel chew the fart fat while walking in the hills or sitting in a hot tub or sipping tea. But this is mostly a film that celebrates (advertises?) Sorrentino’s gifts as a visual composer.
And I’ll tell you something. After a while I wanted a respite from all the beautiful framing and the luscious, perfectly lighted Swiss scenery. I wanted Caine and Keitel to take a train to Bern or Zurich on some pretext and hit a topless bar or something, if only for a few minutes respite from Sorrentino Land, which — don’t get me wrong — is a fine, rapturous place to be but which can feel, after a time, a bit narcotizing. You could even say that it offers a kind of confinement. It’s not that I don’t value it. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been savoring fine cinematography, editing and production design all my life, and I know what goes.
The story, wholly subordinate to the visual scheme, is about a couple of well-heeled old pals — a retired composer and conductor (Caine) and a hard-working 70something film director (Keitel) — hanging at a Swiss spa (near Davos) and acridly contemplating the indignities of age and the slow ebbing of vitality and diminishment of their lives yaddah yaddah, and to some extent the lives of their children. With some attention paid to Caine’s daughter-assistant (Rachel Weisz) and a young American actor (Paul Dano) famous for playing a super robot but who’s now preparing for a new role, and to Keitel’s longtime creative collaborator (Jane Fonda) who’s expected to star in his latest but drops by the spa to deliver some bad news.
I need to tell you something else and make it very clear. When Fonda explains her plans to Keitel in this scene, which is bluntly-worded (to put it faintly) and maybe five or six minutes long, Fonda steals this fucking movie. Slashtongue, whipsnarl, bite the poor guy’s head off. Which requires a Best Supporting Actress campaign, of course. You just know that this kind of thing — 77 year-old Fonda lucking into a choice role (however brief her screen time) and slamming it hard — will play big with the Academy’s over-60 set. (Here’s Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan on Fonda’s performance and appearance.)
I’m bet that Fox Searchlight’s marketing and publicity pros have already figured all the Fonda angles six ways from Sunday.
We’re also talking about a Best Actor campaign for Caine, 82, who hasn’t been in anything this good since Phillip Noyce‘s The Quiet American, which was made 13 or 14 years ago and in which Caine, then 68 or 69 with light brown hair, convincingly played the lover of a much younger Vietnamese woman (played by Do Thi Hai Yen). Since then he’s become a doddering member of the Chris Nolan Players and, as Caine acknowledged during the press conference, has more particularly become known as Batman’s butler, Alfred. Not to mention the fact that in 2010 he was famously charicatured and, in a sense, culturally owned by Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip.
But with his Youth performance Caine is back on track and has re-possessed the old mojo.
I’d like to say that Keitel delivers a performance that’s just as strong and savory as that of his two costars, but he doesn’t quite. He’s totally fine, but, as Ryker said in Shane, there are only so many hands in a deck of cards.
You just can’t stop going “wow…every damn shot in this film is exquisite.” But after a while you start to ask, “But should every shot be exquisite? Is there something going on here besides our being visually dazzled?” Yes — this is a film about how aging sucks and how sooner or later older people either retire or get pushed aside. And if you want any kind of vibrancy in your life you have to try regardless or…whatever, get out of the way. Move it or lose it. But I think most of us understand that going in.
Youth got booed and applauded following this morning’s 8:30 am screening. I was a little surprised at the boos, but I guess some felt irked by the Sorrentino Land vibe that I described six or seven paragraphs ago. Or whatever…call it Youth‘s studied, porcelain quality. Which you either go with or you don’t.
(l. to r.) Dano, Fonda, Keitel, Weisz, Caine.