Review By Michael McNulty
You may find it difficult to decide how to feel about Youth, Paolo Sorrentino’s most recent cinematic offering. Set in a luxury spa hotel in the Swiss Alps, the film has a quiet melancholy about it with an undercurrent of comedy flowing beneath the surface. Youth’s rich visuals are beautifully stylised, but the film feels indulgent and overly sentimental and lacks a forward movement that limits its emotional engagement.
It’s about two old, successful friends reflecting and coming to terms with life, death, regret and memory whilst enjoying – sort of – a retreat at a Swiss resort. Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a celebrated composer and former director of the Venice Symphony Orchestra whom a Royal emissary is trying to talk out of retirement for a final performance of his “Simple Songs,” Fred’s most remembered work. His best friend Mick, played by Harvey Keitel, is a director desperately trying to maintain his career; working with a group of young writers as they try to finish what he hopes will be his legacy.
There is not much in the way of a story beyond these two characters. Fred and Mick stroll around the beautiful grounds of the resort remembering, forgetting, complaining and enjoying everything from their prostates to beautiful former lovers and this is where Youth becomes difficult to discern. The contemplative conversations and the ambling, veers between being touching and funny to overly sentimental, self-indulgent and clunky. The characters, the narrative, and emotionality of Youth feels static and the film becomes tedious.
It is the moments between the dialogue that gives Youth its power. In this quiet Sorrentino captures and communicates the internal and external struggles of his characters. There is the continual juxtaposition between Fred and his young masseuse, his knotted, leathery skin working as a physical limitation that needs to be stretched and pulled versus his masseuse’s youthful beauty and movement as she later dances in her room. When both Mick and Fred spy an old couple having sex in a forest, it plays on the curious nature of pre-pubescence and has an absurdist quality that makes the underlying themes of Youth finally resonate.
A bit like one of Fred and Mick’s walks, the scenery is beautiful; everything else is a bit dull.
Youth is out on VOD 23rd May and DVD/Blu-Ray 30th May