Cannes Film Festival: Youth

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda

by Joanna Orland

Stunning, nostalgic, powerful and divisive, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has created a dazzling piece of cinema with his latest English language film Youth – a film difficult to review as it must be experienced, not described.

Starring Michael Caine as retired conductor and composer Fred Ballinger and Harvey Keitel as his lifelong friend film director Mick, the film follows the pair who, approaching their eighties, ponder the passage of time. Set in a spa hotel resort in the Swiss Alps, the film is populated with colourful characters including Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter, Paul Dano as a serious actor, Jane Fonda as the diva, and Paloma Faith as Paloma Faith. Youth does tend to stray into surrealist territory, with vivid imagery and an indulgent score that often shifts from beautifully bespoke to pop re-purposed.

While some of the press at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, where Youth is screening In Competition, are weary of Sorrentino’s latest effort, one cannot argue against the high calibre performance delivered by Michael Caine. This is the actor’s greatest in many years and will hopefully lead him to garner an Oscar for his turn as the apathetic Fred Ballinger. Much of the action does take place surrounding Fred, as his daughter emotionally reflects on his parenting and husbandly duties in a poetic monologue delivered beautifully by Rachel Weisz, and through many of the peripheral characters and luxurious visuals that encompass Caine’s performance. But Caine is the rock and his performance is anything but apathetic. He is stoic, subtle and more passionate than he has been on screen in my entire lifetime. His performance is touching, engaging and makes Youth as powerful as I found it to be.

In the same vain as Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, the stylization of Youth is over-indulgent and a tad pretentious, but gloriously so. There are moments of less-than-perfection, notably in some of Harvey Keitel’s lines as he on occasion struggles to deliver them in a natural fashion as if he were translating them from Italian originally. This is perhaps why Sorrentino’s Italian films receive a better reception, as Sorrentino is the epitome of Italian cinema – in all its glory. But in English, we get Michael Caine, which is well worth the trade off.

In addition to Caine and Keitel is Rachel Weisz, who has featured in two of Cannes 2015’s best with Youth and The Lobster.  The actress comes into her own with this performance as Fred Ballinger’s daughter, assistant to her father and jilted by her husband for pop singer Paloma Faith. Weisz’ heartfelt monologue to her father is a film highlight and provides much of the heart of this film as well as a pivotal point for Fred as he realizes the true relationship between parent and child. In fact, in his later years, Fred doesn’t even remember his own parents, or his childhood. The passage of time changes perception.

Paul Dano is oddly cast as a serious actor who has made one light-hearted film about a robot, but finds it has haunted his entire career, mirroring Fred’s plight as the composer with a serious repertoire, outside of his most acclaimed piece Simple Songs. Again, the film’s supporting roles come into play to support Fred and Mick, and Dano’s actor does just this.

Jane Fonda also has a supporting role as diva movie star Brenda Morel, whose career was launched many years ago by Mick’s films. She returns to visit Mick to warn him off of making his latest film as it will be a certain failure. As Mick ages, he becomes less relevant in cinema, she explains. This is a harsh scene with Fonda stealing every second of it. The irony of her own aging is not lost and while a short but acerbic part, Jane Fonda makes a huge impression.

There is so much to say about this film that it is hard to put into words. It is best seen, or rather, experienced as Sorrentino has perfectly captured the beauty in life, death and age with Youth.


Our interviews with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel at the Youth premiere at the 59th BFI London Film Festival.




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