Italian director Paolo Sorrentino leads Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel through a holiday in the picturesque Swiss Alps as the pair make observations about growing up, holding on, fame and human nature. Youth is a visual smorgasbord with a collection of excellent performances, but perhaps lacks a key message among multiple ruminations about the world.
Fred Ballinger (Caine) is a famous conductor, he is holidaying in the Alps with his best friend, film director Mick Boyle (Keitel), when Fred is asked to perform his greatest pieces for the Queen. Surrounding him in the hotel are a mix of young and elderly people including famous sports heroes, actors and Miss Universe. Through both Boyle and Ballinger we see their lives, thought processes and fragile emotional states as they contemplate their family lives, professional success and where they have come to in their lives. Youth is a slow moving film that exists in isolation to the world, placing a group in a chamber and observing them live.
There is a lot to love about Youth. The visuals of Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi are sweeping and elegant. We are gifted juxtapositions of age and subtle camera movement delivers emotional depth to peripheral characters. The true star here though are the performances by Caine and personal favourite Paul Dano. Anytime either are on the screen there is an electricity and pensive tension. Both have the ability to be explosive but are here curated into very careful caricatures of well known figures and used as mouthpieces for their generation. Caine is a legend, but even now he still owns the screen.
While the film swirls visually, it also stretches beyond its requirement. We are given multiple intertwined character arcs which eventually come together but often distract from others perhaps more engaging. The film has a bit of fat that could be trimmed which would perhaps help pinpoint a key message and give the final act more impact. Just buy a larger size of popcorn and you’ll be fine.
Michael Caine sits himself down on the edge of a field and conducts the cows. A scene of beauty, comedy and whimsy but something that really helps set the scene and tone for the film to come. Honorable mention to discussion of urine flow, dinner conversations and mountaineering.
Youth is a joy to watch. The performances across the board are a pleasure to watch, the visuals are calculated but supremely effective and evocative. What the film lacks in clear plot it matches in throwing up ideas. What do we remember about our lives once we get old? Can you mend family ties? Does talent disappear? Who do we perform for and what will it do? So many questions that are a delight to deconstruct against the beautiful, funny, engaging and timely backdrop that Youth gives us.