By: Mark Barber
Youth is Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning film The Great Beauty, and his first English feature. I have not seen The Great Beauty, but the constant praise for its Felliniesque style makes sense, given that Youth is just as self-reflexive and oneiric as famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s films.
Youth takes place in a swanky resort in the Swiss Alps, focusing on two residents–retired composer and conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and ageing filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Youth consists mostly of their interactions with each other and other characters, including Ballinger’s daughter (Rachel Weisz) and a cynical, typecast actor (Paul Dano). Youth’s narrative is airy and unfocused, allowing director/screenwriter Sorrentino to let his characters ruminate on a broad thematic canvas that touches on relationships, ambitions, and mortality.
As a director, Sorrentino’s elegant, graceful style and steady pace buoys an otherwise monotonous narrative about two elderly citizens coming to terms with their inevitable deaths. As a screenwriter, however, Sorrentino’s dialogue is heavy with philosophical fixations and platitudes. The dialogue also feels homogeneous, with many characters are clearly written with the same voice in mind. While Caine and Weisz fit in perfectly with Sorrentino’s bizarre singular voice, a terribly miscast Keitel struggles to find the right delivery for the densely written script.
However, Sorrentino’s magic is found in his images, not his words. Like in a Fellini film, Youth resides in that liminal space between real and fantasy. It doesn’t quite become a magical realist film, but it can be difficult at times to identify the demarcation between the two.
Youth is a beautifully shot and well-paced, but awkwardly written. Sorrentino’s images are terrific, but his verbosity undermines his otherwise gorgeous film.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile