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Sunday, April 03, 2016

Youth

As with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino's most previous film, Youth requires some getting used to. It has an odd rhythm to it, perhaps because or in spite of that it is about a composer and conductor. Scenes end abruptly, and there are surrealistic scenes that recall Fellini. In fact, I found this film to be something of an homage to 8 1/2, if not nearly as great.

Youth is carried by three excellent performances--Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, and Paul Dano. Caine and Keitel play geezers and old friends (I tried to figure out how Caine, an Englishman, and Keitel, sounding like someone from Brooklyn, were friends as teenagers, but no matter) who are vacationing together in a spa in Switzerland. Caine is a retired composer who is adamant about not performing his most famous piece in a command performance in front of the Queen. Keitel is a film director who is working on his "testament" along with some much younger writers. Dano is a famous movie star who is chagrined that he is remembered most for playing a robot.

As the title suggests, the film is all about youth, old age, and mortality. Caine and Keitel commiserate about not being able to urinate, and Keitel can't remember if he slept with a girl they both liked. They have great chemistry together, and the best parts of the film are when they are just chatting. The plot contrivances, such as Caine's daughter (Rachel Weisz) being married to Keitel's son, who bas left her for real life pop star Paloma Faith (I only knew she was a real person after the film was over) are kind of a drag on the film.

I give Youth a slight thumbs up, as Caine is always interesting and his character is well crafted. Striding through the movie, with a stiff posture and a silver mane, he is a man who treated his wife badly, and hears it from Weisz as they lie side by side getting mud baths. His entire life has been music, but he gave it up with much of a second thought. Keitel is still brimming with inspiration, and when he finds out that his actress (Jane Fonda, in a scenery-chewing scene) can't do his film, he is crushed.

Youth has some other odd things about it. Soccer legend Diego Maradona plays himself, and he's morbidly obese (but still can kick a ball better than any of us), and there are dream sequences that are quite striking, such as Caine conducting a field of cows, and Keitel seeing all his leading ladies over the years.

Sorrentino remains a filmmaker of great imagination, but at times a very inscrutable one.

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