Superheroes and franchise blockbusters may dominate the multiplex, but Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” is a reminder of the touching, unexpected and unusual places movies can go.
Original and unpredictable, “Youth” trusts its audience’s curiosity and powers of perception. “Youth” is almost the antithesis of the Hollywood blockbuster, and not just because of its non-linear narrative. Despite its title, the film centers on a relationship between two octogenarians, and presents people of all ages, sizes and appearances as worthy of interest and love.
The film’s idyllic setting is a vintage health spa in the Swiss Alps that offers nightly live entertainment and daily nude hot-pool soaks amid breathtaking mountain landscapes. Retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is there for his annual retreat, accompanied by his daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz). Fred’s lifelong friend, Hollywood filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), is there, too.
Also staying at the resort is famous American actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), who is preparing for his next role. He befriends the older men as they check out their fellow guests.
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Lena is worried about Fred, who has just declined an invitation from the Queen of England to conduct his most beloved composition at a concert for Prince Philip. Fred insists he’s retired and done with life; Lena says he’s apathetic. But when no one is watching, Fred imagines himself conducting the sounds he hears in nature.
He talks about life and age and memories with Mick, who’s otherwise focused on his latest screenplay, which he calls his “testament.” He brought a group of young screenwriters with him to help brainstorm the film’s ending.
Jimmy, meanwhile, spends most of his time observing everyone else.
The music itself is a character, from Fred’s original compositions to the songs by the eclectic entertainers who appear at the hotel.
With its artful soundtrack, excellent performances and big questions about life, fear and creativity, the musical and narrative themes of “Youth” play on long after the film ends.
Cast: Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Harvey Keitel
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Rated R (graphic nudity, some sexuality and language)