By James Hancock December 4th, 2015
After many months of drooling over one of the sexiest and most provocative movie posters I have ever seen, today I finally had the chance to see Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth which opens this weekend in the United States. I’m relatively new to the work of Paolo Sorrentino and only recently saw The Great Beauty (2013) for the first time. The Great Beauty has style to spare, shot by Sorrentino almost like an exhibitionist coming out to the world with as much fanfare as possible hellbent upon making moviegoers acknowledge his talent. Youth exhibits the same level of technical skill on the part of the director, but while The Great Beauty hit me like a cinematic sledgehammer, Youth feels more like a scalpel with our attention focused on a more quiet, ruminative story about a great artist growing old who is reckoning with the consequences of a life devoted almost entirely to his craft. In Youth, Michael Caine plays a retired orchestra conductor vacationing at a luxury resort in the Swiss Alps alongside his best friend, a filmmaker played by Harvey Keitel, who is putting the finishing touches on the screenplay to his next project. Caine is struggling with depression and apathy as his daughter, played by Rachel Weisz, tries to coax him into working again. The story unfolds at a leisurely, almost meditative pace, and features a wide array of wealthy eccentrics talking at length about artistic integrity, unrequited love, fading memories, enlarged prostates, and unfaithful spouses. If this sounds like a light dish thematically, Paolo Sorrentino’s photographic gymnastics, for the most part, will keep your senses throughly stimulated as the story pushes toward a climax that brings some unexpected but welcome emotional weight to the finale. While for me, it was not as satisfying a moviegoing experience as The Great Beauty, Youth remains a vivid reminder that Paolo Sorrentino is one of a handful of directors working today who seems right on the verge of delivering a masterpiece.
If my enthusiasm sounds somewhat restrained and measured, it is only because I feel no rush to immediately see this film again. That said, I like the fact that the story has a bit of an aimless plot, one that made me feel like I was on vacation right alongside the characters. Like at any resort, some of the conversations interested me and when I found myself losing interest I simply enjoyed the scenery. The heart of the film is the relationship between Caine and Keitel. While Caine and Keitel’s characters are ostensibly talking about their characters’ lives and careers, they might as well be talking about their own lives as they discuss women they wish they had slept with and whether or not they’ve had a good piss that day. The most obvious show-stopping moment is the one prominently featured in the advertising as Caine and Keitel sit in a tub of hot water, completely slack-jawed in awe, as the newly crowned Miss Universe (played by Madalina Diana Ghenea) strolls into the pool buck ass naked. She barely pauses to notice the two dirty old men shamelessly gawking at her. While the scene is a pleasure to behold, the real secret weapon of this film for me is the very sexy Rachel Weisz. Of all the interwoven stories of this film I found hers to be most interesting as she tries to get over the humiliation of her husband leaving her for a dim-witted pop star. Without going too much into spoilers, Weisz has a dream about her husband and his new lover that suggests that if Paolo Sorrentino ever wanted to be the Michael Bay of Europe, he very easily could make that switch and be the most commercial director alive. The entire movie is worth seeing for this one sequence alone. So if Youth is opening at a theater near you this weekend, I urge you to check it out. I totally understand why some critics have been reluctant to completely embrace the film, but I anticipate this film will continue to be somewhat polarizing in that it so easily opens itself up to different interpretations and reactions. Worst case scenario, for relatively little money you will vicariously enjoy one of the best cinematic vacations possible in the company of two actors who have devoted their lives to decades of incredible filmmaking.
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