AFF: YOUTH [2015]

The closing film for the Adelaide Film Festival was Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to his Oscar winning ‘The Great Beauty’. I had a blast during the festival, seeing at least one film each day. Sadly it is over and is a biennial event, so I am glad I saw as many movies as I could!

Originally written for:

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Directed and Written by Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda


I have not seen Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty as many others have, though I have read enough about it to know that I should probably see it at some stage. I was glad to see then that his second excursion into the English language was to be the closing film for the Adelaide Film Festival. Youth stars Harvey Keitel and an actor who I will watch in anything, no matter the story – Michael Caine – even if he has been phoning in some performances recently.

Youth is more of a character and relationship study than a story, as the narrative is quite thin but also thoughtful and leaves one contemplating the meaning of certain conversations. It certainly offers a lot to take home and chew on, and it is not predictable. For most of the film I felt I was waiting for something, a twist or event to change the situation. I certainly did not see it coming, but my father missed it entirely! It is captured in a way that is easy to miss.

The narrative is, like I said, simple: two men are vacationing at a Swiss hotel. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a retired composer who is being pestered by the Royal family to perform his most famous piece. His answer is a stern no though we don’t get a glimpse into the reasons for his refusal until late into the movie. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is an aging director, constantly reassuring himself that he hasn’t lost his ability to make films. His younger entourage are struggling to find an ending for Mick’ movie, a self-labelled testament. Some of the suggestions given are laughable and reflect the reality that Mick’s talent is fading, as much as he refuses to admit it. His young companions are good for some laughs, though these characters aren’t really focused on or built in any way, which was fine by me as they were typical Hollywood people. Perhaps their small involvement was intentional.

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The best aspect of this film by far is the chemistry shared between Caine and Keitel. Their interactions are funny, heartfelt, sad; an array of emotions are shared between them despite the fact that for their sixty year friendship they have only told each other the good things, the positives of their respective lives. It is on this holiday that the two not only become closer friends and share what they haven’t before, but more importantly they begin to explore themselves, perhaps more than they wanted.

The meat of the film, and the reason for the title, is theme of growing old, as one character is a retired composer who has lost his wife, while the other is an aging director who is losing grip on his self-awareness. Many conversations between the two again offer a surprising amount of laughs, despite the fact the two are talking about their reality: that they are getting old, that death is not so far away. The script is fantastically written as the dialogue is sharp and witty, while the acting is impeccable, especially Michael Caine, though I will freely admit that I am biased. Keital is great to watch as usual.

We also have Ballinger’s daughter as an important part of the film, Lena (Rachel Weisz). A theme of regret washes over some of the scenes she is in, especially when talking to her father. We laugh at their conversations, we cry, but more importantly we get to know Lena; who is an extension of her father. Does she share any of her father’s personality traits?

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Throughout the film, many seemingly random shots and scenes take place, often showing younger beauties bathing naked in the hotel, or a young employee dancing to a game on her TV. There is also a scene where this young employee is massaging Ballinger, and again the script is well written as they have a candid conversation about the sensation of touch. These random scenes and that massage scene in particular told me that we are all human, that the young and the old can relate to one another if we try. Some of these scenes, especially the bare-chested beauties bathing in the hotel, are quite heavy handed though and could have done with a little subtlety.

The pace of the film is slow; a lot of patience is required to watch this flick. The narrative as I have already mentioned is thin-to-non-existent, and excluding the two main characters, none of the characters are developed in any meaningful way. But the themes explored, the quality of the acting and the witty dialogue, not to mention the emotional heft of the film, left me a satisfied customer.

Nothing spectacular then, but a solid movie that packs an emotional punch while maintaining its witty and funny dialogue for the duration. Those wanting action or a film driven by a story, steer clear of this one. If however you enjoy dialogue driven drama, this is a movie to see.

3 and a Half Pops