4 stars
In a Swiss health spa for the talented wealthy, retired composer Fred (Michael Caine), fading director Mick (Harvey Keitel) and a rock star on sabbatical, Jimmy (Paul Dano), are consolidating their positions in life.
Fred has no intention of composing, much less conducting his renowned composition, 'Simple Songs', ever again. By contrast, his best friend Mick is feverishly trying to finish the script for the movie he imagines will define his career. Complicating both positions are their children whose failing marriage spills into the resort; Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) seeks some comfort from her father although he's distracted by an emissary from his number one fan, Queen Elizabeth, who demands an encore performance. All the while, zen-like Jimmy watches on, preparing for his next tour.

What sounds like the recipe for screwball comedy is, in point of fact, a measured contemplation on closing chapters (death if you will), filmed with impeccable clarity of vision by Paolo Sorrentino. Thematically linked with his Sean Penn starrer This Must Be The Place and his Oscar winning The Great Beauty, it has the same grand, sweeping gestures; long, elegant shots; transformative settings and apparently frustrating narrative cul-de-sacs: everything to keep you on your toes as the story takes form, transfixes then transmutes into something totally unexpected. It's ravishing.

While that reads like so much reviewer's gibberish, it goes someway to explaining the experience of watching this most unusual film. On one level, it is the plot as described. Yet throughout there are these sublime moments when the camera simply turns to let you see what's happening outside the frame, usually without reference to the main story. But as all things are connected, so too these long detours serve to explore the mood and reaction and circumstance of characters and events; fleshing out the viewing experience in unusual, and often unforgettable, ways.

As with most Sorrentino films, there's a great sadness at the heart of the story, but also a great sense of hope and wit. Caine captures it perfectly, his weathered face eloquent in expressions of wry humour and deep pain. He is a pleasure to watch, and it is a pleasure to see him in something this challenging. Likewise Keitel, particularly when the pair are sparring or gossiping like an old married couple (which, in effect, they are). The incomparable Weisz and Dano are delightful in support, as are numerous oddities and curiosities who populate the edges of the story; notable is Fred's monosyllabic, silent-dancing masseur.

Youth will be adored by those who appreciate characters without cause for endless chatter, who appreciate films without guns to make , by those who appreciate stories about finding peace and happiness. Fame and ageism get a look in, but mostly Youth is about everything you discover once it's gone. A cliché perhaps, but one freshly wrapped in a film of great beauty and wisdom.


Previewed at Sony Theatre, Sydney on 22 October 2015

Michael Caine
Harvey Keitel
Paul Dano
Rachel Weisz

Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino

Italy / UK / France / Switzerland


118 minutes

December 26, 2015
Youth (2015) on IMDb
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