Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: Youth

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Much like his 2013 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner "The Great Beauty," Paolo Sorrentino's latest, "Youth," is filled with lush and often beautiful visuals, but similar to that film - and to a greater extent - the director's latest places too high of an emphasis on style and, as he did in "Beauty," appears intent on paying homage to classic foreign cinema, especially Federico Fellini - and, perhaps, a little too much so.

Now, I liked "The Great Beauty" well enough, although I didn't love it as much as some others. Nevertheless, I admired it, especially its visual beauty. "Youth" is also great to look at, but it's a disjointed effort. Random characters pop in and out of the story and serve little purpose and the concept that old artists need look no further than the sight of a young naked woman is a cinematic cliche that has grown old.

In the film, Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired and somewhat resigned-to-his-fate orchestra conductor who is taking a holiday at a lush resort in the Alps with his best pal, a film director named Mick (Harvey Keitel), as well as his daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), who acts as his personal assistant and has just been dumped by her husband, who, as it turns out, is Mick's son. Much is made of this break-up, that is, until it suddenly isn't and Weisz's character is given short shrift.

Also at the resort are Paul Dano as an actor seemingly there for some sort of inspiration - although his later scenes when he dresses as Adolf Hitler are a bit baffling - and a large man who is apparently famous for some reason, to which we are never privy, and the only other thing we learn about him is that he can kick a tennis ball up in the air over and over. Jane Fonda also pops up as an aging diva actress, but seemingly only to ratchet up the drama when she drops a bombshell on Keitel's character.

Caine is great as ever as Ballinger, even though his character is a little bit of a cipher. During one sequence, an emissary from Britain's royal family arrives at the resort and attempts to convince Ballinger to perform some of his earlier works in a performance for the queen. He refuses and is so vague about his reason for turning down the request that I began to feel as if I deserved some answers from him as well. He eventually opens up, but mostly to allow the plot to move forward.

The supporting cast is good as well and I think "Youth" could have been a better film had Sorrentino given these characters with potential a little more to do. As it stands, the film plays as a how-to-guide for European art cinema. Sequences with slight surreal touches? Check. Abundant female nudity and even a nude man? Check. Pithy asides about life? Check. And so on.

"Youth" isn't a bad movie. In fact, it has a decent amount of stuff, so to speak, with which to work. But it seems as if Sorrentino and company didn't know how to put the good material they had to best use. There are several scenes of Keitel's filmmaker and his own crew sitting around attempting to come up with a fitting ending for the film he's making that he intends to be his ultimate artistic statement. Perhaps, the makers of "Youth" could have benefitted from a few more meetings of this sort.

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