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New Release Review - YOUTH

A retired composer faces a dilemma when offered to conduct a concert for the Queen of England.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino

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



Caine's Ballinger is a classic Sorrentino protagonist - an aged, well off, white male suffering what could be dismissed as 'first world problems' - but this time the Italian director has the good sense to dial down his flashy camera tricks and allow his leading man do the heavy lifting.



If you've been an avid cinema-goer over the past couple of years you'll get a feeling of deja vu from Youth. Like The Lobster, it's set in a luxury hotel (in this case a Swiss spa resort) populated by various quirky oddball characters. As with Clouds of Sils Maria, it features a mature artist debating over whether or not to accept a job offer, all the while tended to by their younger assistant. And if you've seen Paolo Sorrentino's most recent films (This Must be the Place, The Great Beauty), you'll be familiar with its aesthetic - rigidly adhering to the rule of thirds, framing its arts-employed male protagonist centre on while extracting borrowed emotion from passionate music on the soundtrack. There are few surprises from Sorrentino here, but there is a sense that he may be maturing somewhat.
Following in the path tread by Sorrentino's previous existential crisis sufferers is Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired composer seemingly living out his days in content at a luxurious alpine resort. His status quo is shook however by the arrival of a representative of the Queen of England, who wishes Ballinger to come out of retirement to conduct at a special concert in her honour. Ballinger refuses, stating personal reasons, but Her Majesty's rep won't take no for an answer, until Ballinger reveals the reason for his refusal.
Ballinger is a classic Sorrentino protagonist - an aged, well off, white male suffering what could be dismissed as 'first world problems' - but this time the Italian director has the good sense to dial down his flashy camera tricks and allow his leading man do the heavy lifting. The veteran legend is as good as he's ever been here, and though he's always committed, this might be his best work, and most interesting character, since Hannah and Her Sisters. With sparse dialogue, and no cheap voiceover narration, Caine is asked to convey his character's state of mind through expression, and it's a task he pulls off immaculately. Caine's face at this point is more than a mere actor's tool; it's a prop, a set, a location - a topographical map of a long life lived. The film is at its best when Caine is simply asked to sit and react with that glorious smile of his, here tempered with a sadness.
Also at the resort is veteran filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), who along with a ragtag bunch of stereotypical screenwriters, is struggling to find an ending for his latest movie. Keitel's sequences are nowhere near as interesting as those of his co-star, and the film could likely be improved if he were edited down to a supporting character to allow more time for the engaging Caine. Maradona hangs out at the resort too (though played by a lookalike), as does singer Paloma Faith (played by herself), whose scenes come off as decidedly awkward product placement. Meanwhile, Paul Dano is wasted as a Hollywood star unhappy that his fans only acknowledge his role in a sci-fi movie.
The biggest criticism of Sorrentino is how out of touch his work portrays him. Once again, his latest film gives the impression that he's never spoken to a woman or a member of the working class. The female characters here simply exist to help the males along their respective existential journeys, and the treatment of a masseuse comes across as well intentioned but ultimately patronising, like the married couple at the end of The Great Beauty. That said, unlike Sorrentino's previous protagonists, you won't want to smack Michael Caine about the face by the end. Whether that's down to the director or the actor, I'm not entirely sure.
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