Gaspar Noé’s Love wasn’t the only movie with a risqué poster at Cannes this year.
And knowing Rachel Weisz was the female lead, I’d assumed it was her backside on show. So what a shock it was to discover five minutes in that she was playing Michael Caine’s daughter. Where exactly was Paolo Sorrentino (director) going with this?
But, fear not, the incestuous ogling never manifested itself and the grand behind belongs to someone else entirely. But, enough of the arsing around . . .
Youth sees Caine’s retired composer, Fred Ballinger, staying in a gorgeous Alpine care home-come-rehab centre alongside Harvey Keitel’s aging film director, Mick Boyle. And the drama meanders between the two of them, as well as dedicating some time to the other guests. This set of characters includes, but is not limited to, Paul Dano’s lost-his-way actor-director, Jimmy Tree, and Weisz as Ballinger’s daughter and assistant.
In addition to these key players, there are a host of quirky peripheral characters, including – but, again, not limited to – a heavy-set Maradona-like ex-footballer and Paloma Faith (yes, that one).
It’s this occasionally full-blown weirdness that I struggled with early on, with the film coming across as an uninspired The Grand Budapest Hotel knock-off. But, over the course of the drama, Sorrentino did manage to win me over for most of the subplots.
The artifice did loom large over the early sections, and even moments as impressive as Weisz’s extended to-camera monologue came across as overly fake. But, once again, Sorrentino overcomes this flaw; this time with emotional tenderness. One exchange between Jimmy and a young girl is particularly strong and features a number of disarmingly astute observations about art and its place in our lives.
Moments like this soar, and they’re only heightened by Sorrentino’s visual artistry. His last film, The Grand Beauty was famed for its striking cinematography and he’s on top form here as well. His eye for striking visuals is truly impressive and he ensures the film is always a joy to watch. This is strengthened by Sorrentino’s firm handle on his musical choices, which he uses to elevate his stunning visuals.
Adding to the films fake-ness is Caine’s ‘performance’, apostrophised because, well . . . he’s playing Michael Caine. He does display flashes of brilliance amongst the Caine-isms, but it’s an issue nonetheless. Especially when Keitel avoids simply playing himself. But, outplaying both of them is Dano (whose striking face you may recognise from There Will Be Blood and 12 Years a Slave, amongst others) whose performance is fascinating and the perfect dose of Sorrentino weirdness.
Despite this being my first Sorrentino film, it feels like Youth is all I needed to educate myself in his oeuvre. His visuals and use of sound are excellent and his philosophising soars at times. So, even if his grasp on narrative isn’t quite as strong, he still makes for a fun ride.