Something about director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth reminded me of taking the time to watch a sunset: an exalted if everyday occurrence that’s slow paced but ends too soon.
To be released 29 January in UK cinemas, Youth sees old pals Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel) hanging out on holiday at an upscale spa hotel in the Swiss Alps. Both are nearing 80 and grappling with the fact that the best of their lives is behind them. There’s a calm charm to this movie about life’s golden years that’s beguiling and poignant, but it’s marked too often by cumbersome attempts to get its message across.
I should mention here that I tend only to review things I actually enjoy experiencing and that I would have no qualms recommending to people I know personally. To be sure, that is the case with this film. However, my favourable review comes with misgivings.
My main complaint is that Youth represents yet another tale stacked high atop a heap of stories about rich, old, successful white dudes whom we’re supposed to feel sorry for – while the characters around these old farts seem to have lives teeming with just as much pathos and far more quirk. It’s as if we are supposed to see the world through an aging Narcissist’s eye while every other living soul depicted seems only to exist for his benefit.
Still, when the old farts in question are played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, sympathy for a crusty Narcissus is sublimely delivered. Beyond the stellar performances by these two heavyweights, the work of most cast members was a delight to watch. The kindling of romance between Lena (Fred’s daughter, played by Rachel Weisz) and a smitten mountaineer (Robert Seethaler) was especially endearing. Jane Fonda sizzled in her deus ex machine role as tough but glamourous actress Brenda Morel.
The language of Youth was a bit too weighty for my taste and came across too often as preachy. So many lines were delivered as though the very meaning of life was being presented to the viewer and said viewer should be grateful for this opportunity to have it revealed. At the best moments, such rich refrains washed over me eliciting a feeling similar to that of admiring a piece of fine art by a master. Other times, they induced a yawn and an eye roll. The “from the mouths of babes” moments sprinkled throughout the film were heavy handed and clunky.
My final gripe is one I hate to admit. Getting to see actress/model Madalina Ghenea strut her gloriously naked stuff across the big screen, as Miss Universe, was maybe the visual highlight of my week. She’s a hottie beyond compare. And the scene with her gracefully entering a hot tube while Caine and Keitel’s characters impishly ogle her perfect body was exquisite fun. Sadly though, it was gratuitous (as was the case with most of the other nudie shots in the film).
Old dudes, overly earnest wordage, and unnecessarily filmed boobies aside, Youth was a cinematic pleasure to behold. Much of that had to do with the Switzerland in springtime setting. But Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi cast an equally loving and stylised gaze upon all matter filmed. Every frame seen in this lulling 124-minute film is exceptionally captivating, whether it be a stunning landscape, a chintzy souvenir shop, an aging man, or a beauty queen.
Like every sunset simply is, Youth aims to be momentous, that’s what makes it very watchable but – as adding commentary to a sunset might be – is also a bit more cloying than required.
Find out more about the film at foxsearchlight.com/youth.