Youth: A just okay film from a director of unique talent

Niall McCann


Niall McCann

Youth: A just okay film from a director of unique talent

The new film from the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, Youth, is his first after his Oscar winning The Great Beauty and while not quite reaching the levels of that Fellini-esque near masterpiece it is certainly a diverting and moving alternative to the usual dross we get spoon-fed.

Set in a hotel/ health spa/ sanitarium somewhere in the idyllic Swiss countryside we follow retired composer Fred Ballinger played by Michael Caine as he mopes about the place with a face on him like the back end of an ill male feline. His wife has died some years prior and though he apparently was some sort of genius in the world of music composition he is mostly remembered for a series he wrote entitled Simple Songs - which are exactly what they sound like - sweet and simple.

Ballinger is joined by his best friend film director Mick Boyle, Harvey Keitel and his equally forlorn daughter Lena, played by Rachel Weisz.

The plot of which there is not much goes something like this: Ballinger is approached by a representative of the Queen who wants him to perform his Simple Songs series for her - an idea he refuses for as he says "personal reasons". His daughter Lena has been dumped by her husband and his buddy Boyle is attempting to finish the script for his final movie, which is to be "his legacy" but all the signs point to his halcyon days being well behind him.

The characters flop around the place looking glum but visually as always the film is stunning.

Sorrentino is one of the most flamboyant stylists of the moving image and here he doesn't disappoint.

His director of photography Lucca Bigazzi does a wonderful job, his camera sweeps and zooms, soars and dives through the picturesque gardens of the spa, as we meet other spectacular characters like the obese Diego Maradona character who lies beached out beside or in the pool or the eternally grumpy Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree played grumpily by Paul Dano who laments that he will only be remembered for playing a "f@@king robot" and Jane Fonda’s Brenda Morel, the actress for whom Mick is writing his movie.

There are sequences in this movie that are a triumph and anyone who likes their cinema to be visually inventive will find much to adore here.

There are missteps here certainly and the film does not always hold true, a cameo by Paloma Faith is a truly dreadful moment and the sight of Caine and Keitel ogling a naked Miss Universe is as creepy a scene as you will see this year but as a meditation on regret, ageing, the problems with and distance between artistic and commercial success it has much to say and the film has an ending that is both heartbreaking and strangely uplifting at the same time.

The film has been described as a slight work in many reviews, and it's true that compared to his work in Il Divo, the Consequences of Love, and the already mentioned Great Beauty this may well hold true but the fact a great director has previously made great films should not allow us to mistake this film as another sign of said greatness from a truly special and important film artist.

3.5 Out of 5

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Along with Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short is perhaps the best film yet about the financial crisis of 2008 and it pulls no punches.

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A huge cue for Irish Cinema even if this is in many ways a north American film.

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