I don’t like Cinema ‘sneak peeks’. I like to be mentally prepared for the film that I am about to spend 2 hours in the warm, soggy embrace of. Is it a horror (do I need a big jumper to hide in)? Is it one that I need my cinema head on for? Or can I get away with movie mind? So when Andy suggested a jaunt to the local Cinestar to check out this week’s selection, I couldn’t have been less thrilled (or as Americans would say – I could have been less thrilled). The fact that The Walk is released in a few days and could have very well been the chosen movie, didn’t add to the thrill level. (I don’t know why, but a tightrope movie just doesn’t appeal to me [Oh yeah, I do know why – it’s a tightrope movie]). However, when the lights dimmed and I saw the welcoming (not really) face of Michael Caine, I got a warm, soggy feeling in my tummy. The movie was Youth and it was very good.
Michale Caine is joined by a selection of acting heavyweights including Harvey Keital, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda in Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film. It centres (or as the Americans would say - it could centre) on a wellness facility in the Swiss alps and the residents therein. Fred Ballinger (Caine) is a former Maestro that the Queen wishes to tempt out of retirement to play Prince Philipp’s birthday bonanza. He is also dealing with the death of his wife and the collapse in his daughter’s marriage (Rachel Weisz), while also struggling to find a frame of reference with the daughter he was never much of a father to. His old friend, Mick Boyle, (Keital) is there to put the final touches to his latest (and last?) film. And Paul Dano’s character, Jimmy Tree, is a young actor that is disturbed that most of his work has been overshadowed by the one role that was popular with the masses. Each character is struggling and that struggle juxtaposes wonderfully with the serene calm of the mountain resort.
Indeed, the resort is an interesting character all by itself. Sorrentino delivers shot after shot of the almost sterile feeling spa. The residents walk around like the walking dead and are shuttled around the corridors like cattle as their nudity appears like simple vulgarity, that is until a beautifully contrasting scene involving Miss Universe. Away from the herd we are treated to some beautiful and intimate shots of the countryside around, almost teasing the distinction between the natural and the fight against nature going on in the resort’s walls. We are treated to a lot of beautifully shot vignettes that give us glimpses into the lives of the NPCs all around the spa – the girl playing the dancing video game alone in her apartment; the prostitute waiting for a john; the naked man and his shame.
Sorrentino deals with loss, nostalgia, memory and belonging in a delicate and well-crafted way. We feel for and fear the ageing characters as they stumble around for memories they have either forgotten accidentally or forgotten on purpose. We empathise with the film star and his lack of direction; the director and his wish for latter day recognition; the daughter with her daddy issues and dead marriage – it all comes together to create a mountain top of infinite sorrow and regret. We can even feel this weight in the background characters that don’t have much screen time – why does the woman slap the man across the face? Why does the young massage therapist not have anything to say? We are left to wonder; but we already know.
Caine is as impressive as he has been in years and Keital makes you forget those dreadful insurance adverts that litter the in between parts of UK television. Weisz is fragile and unsure of herself and is perfect in the role. Jane Fonda’s performance makes you want to cheer at the screen and Paul Dano, following up on his excellent portrayal of Brian Wilson, cements his position as one of the most nuanced and likeable young character actors. The film is a fantastic collective and is wonderfully melancholic. There is even place for The Hand of God.
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