Country: Italy, France, Switzerland, UK
Language: English, Spanish
Director/Writer: Paolo Sorrentino
Music: David Lang
Cinematography: Luca Bigazzi
Luna Zimic Mijovic
Madalina Diana Ghenea
YOUTH is Sorrentino’s much-anticipated follow-up of the Academy winner THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013), an English-speaking ensemble piece set in a posh resort in the Swiss Alps. Fred Ballinger (Caine) is a retired music maestro, he is on vacation with his best-friend-cum-in-law, Mick Boyle (Keitel), an esteemed woman’s director brainstorms with his group of screenwriters for his final testimony, an ambitious work tailor-made for the prestigious actress Brenda Morel (Fonda), who is discovered by Mick over half-a-century ago.
Fred and Mick are friends since childhood, but now both reaching 80, their worldview cannot be more different, Fred is relentlessly apathetic towards his work, he refuses multiple times to the request of Queen Elizabeth to perform his most famous piece “Simple Songs” for Prince Philips’ anniversary, and rebuffs a proposal to write his memoir and asks to be forgotten by the world. While Mick, still enthusiastically integrates with his writer-quintet to finalize the script of his swan-song, a supposed masterpiece for the audience. Yet the two pair harmoniously with their daily pee competition and jostle for memories of their past.
There are other characters, Lena (Weisz), Fred’s daughter, experiences a one-sided breakup from Julian (Stoppard), Mick’s son, who leaves her for Paloma Faith, the real-life British pop star (whose CGI music video is just too surreal even in for a Sorrentino’s production). Paul Dano plays Jimmy Tree, a young actor eternally acknowledged by his most popular role, a robot, and prepares for a new role as Adolf Hitler, which will examine the real driving force that propels him to strive in the business. Also, the overweight Maradona (Serrano), a new Miss Universe (Ghenea), a young masseuse (Mijovic) and a mountaineering coach (Seethaler), all leaves their inking in the narrative.
But is Sorrentino’s ostensibly life-contemplating polishness makes him an auteur of our times? The answer is moot at present, one might be too cynical to call him a poseur, but I suppose an outstanding tableaux artisan is more appropriate right now, no one can deny the imposing beauty of his artsy compositions of his shots and the exalted gratification of his ear-friendly music preferences, yet, as a screenwriter, his dialogue is either cliché-laden or overtly vying to be a dictum, all the best parts are those without words, apparently English language and narrative is really not his strongest suit.
Headlining a glamorous cast, Caine restrains a poised existence against the world around him, his frosty side only breaks down near the end, after the suicide accident (which pales in comparison with IDA 2013 in the same abrupt fashion), and his eventual compromise betrays a tough man/husband/father’s unwilling resignation of his conviction. Keitel has always been a character actor wanting a certain gradation of versatility, his two-hander with Fonda tellingly proves that, he is barely able to retort back in the assumed tit-for-tat show-piece which serves as their Oscar-bait, however his last line is greatly moving “emotion is everything”, eventually he is a martyr for his belief, after the fatal betrayal and he lets his emotions to reign over his life for the last time.
It is easy to understand why Jane Fonda is hyped for an Oscar nomination here, she plays a two-times Oscar-winning diva, basically a larger-than-life version of herself (or is it?) with ridiculously heavy make-up, it is the most showy performance among the cast, but frankly, it is a five-minutes cameo, can she pull off a Beatrice Straight in NETWORK (1976, 8/10)? I highly doubt that will happen, as much as I want to see Fonda back in the Oscar podium, it is a long shot, but one plus side is that her role is right in the target for Oscar voters, a coattail nomination might not be a far-fetched dream. As for Weisz and Dano, doesn’t have enough fodder to be the showstopper here.
Sorrentino is a smart filmmaker, who plumps for stories about the privileged class, where Academy voters clearly belong, and making them feel relevant and contented about the fading memories, about getting old, about mundane pettiness and about nostalgia, without being perceptively incisive, that’s why he has succeeded with THE GREAT BEAUTY, YOUTH unwittingly exposes him as a one-trick-pony, the second round is less admirable, but still passable to watch, yet I cannot say for sure for a third time, let’s wait and see if I am right or wrong, and I do hope there will be a quantum leap to prove I am wrong.