Youth is Paolo Sorrentino’s second English release, a highly-anticipated film given that his last, The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza, released in 2013), scooped up a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. A visually beautiful meditation on life, ennui and death was to be expected with Youth. Whilst it delivers on the cinematography, it’s sad to say that the film leaves us somewhat underwhelmed, and wanting more from its A-list cast.
The film opens on the quintessential luxury mountain spa; nestled in the spectacular backdrop of the Swiss Alps, this exclusive retreat is surrounded by alpine roads that twist and turn around a mountainside dotted with wildflowers. Escaping the demands of their modern lives, it includes European aristocracy, a high-class Arabian family and infamous footballer Maradona amongst its guests. It is also the place where the world’s most successful artists come to relax and ponder their existence.
Amongst these are Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Nick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). These veterans of cinema play world-weary creatives, prisoners of the failing memory of their youth. Nick is a film director, working on a new script for his latest film that he hopes to be his “testament”, and Fred is a renowned composer, sought after by the Queen to conduct a concert for Prince Philip’s birthday. They are childhood friends who “only tell each other the good things”, and are further connected by the fact that Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) is married to Nick’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard). Weisz perfectly expresses Lena’s perpetual state of frustration at her entrapment within the patriarchy of her well-to-do position in society; a woman left by her husband for another woman – cue a very strange cameo performance from Paloma Faith.
From childhood to old age, the men’s lives have taken very different directions: Nick has enjoyed the excesses his lifestyle has allowed him to have, whereas Fred’s emotions have only ever been invested in music. Nonetheless Youth gives us a touching tale of friendship as both of them revisit the past, contemplating romances and passions that have dwindled long ago.
Indeed the entire hotel is inhabited by guests haunted by the zenith of their careers, and they seem to move somnolently through their memories. Youth is filled with director of photography Luca Bigazzi’s beautifully stylish tableaux; the camera contemplates the guests’ floating heads and detached body parts as they go from sauna, to dinner, to the evening entertainment fit for one of Jay Gatsby’s parties. But instead of a celebration of hedonism, no-one pays attention to the revolving platform. Instead they are immersed in their own thoughts, accompanied by composer David Lang’s contemplative folk airs.
The film is most poignant in its contemplation of modern celebrity culture. Also a resident of the hotel is the current Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) – another winner of contemporary society’s obsession with fame and fortune. Despite stardom fuelling many of them, like an archetypical Hollywood actor of today (Paul Dano), Miss Universe is the only guest who admits to seeking it by any means necessary.
Youth also sees a noteworthy performance from Luna Mijovic as the hotel masseuse and in fact the only person truly still in her “Youth”. Instead of emanating a lust for life that gripped the others in their youth, the film sees her absorbed in a music video game, raising a quiet reflection upon the culture of young people today. Unfortunately Youth simply fails to have the impact of The Great Beauty. Albeit a visually pleasing release, it treads on similar philosophical ground as Sorrentino’s previous film, without furthering its ideas about life, aging, and the role of memory.
Whilst inheriting the arrestingly beautiful visuals from The Great Beauty, as well as its interesting depicting of a modern Europe, not even Youth’s A-list cast can dispel the underwhelmed feeling you have once the credits start to roll.
Click here for more Film Reviews
Images from ‘Youth’, StudioCanal