There is a moment in Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH when the aging conductor and composer, played by Michael Caine, stops in a beautiful European meadow to watch the cows. At first we are listening to each dong of a cowbell as a separate sound. Slowly he begins to hear the music hidden inside them. With a bit of imagination, the conductor soon raises a hand to conduct. If the film has a metaphor, this is it. It takes every random “dong” and connects them into a symphony.
When not conducting cows, the conductor has retreated to a luxury spa-hotel that might be Purgatory. He relaxes with his longtime best friend (Harvey Keitel), a film director looking to complete a screenplay with personal meaning (if there are two guys who give the appearance that they grew up on the same street, it is Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel). They’re joined by the conductor’s daughter who works as his personal assistant (Rachel Weisz), going through a marital breakup. They run into a quirky actor (Paul Dano) and Miss Universe. A seeming Diego Maradona tries to burn off a few of his one thousand pounds.
YOUTH is one of the films we reported on from the last Cannes Festival for you. Get all our Cannes Festival coverage May 11-22, 2016.
YOUTH plays a little like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. Despite the conductor’s retirement, the outside world still wants a piece. The Queen of England wants him to conduct one final concert, sending a pushy agent to do the asking. People in Paris want him to write a memoir, despite the fact he remembers less and less from his long life
From the admired director of The Great Beauty, YOUTH is a lullaby of life, a fine dining piece of filmmaking, even if some of the meal ends up all over the napkin. It has a lot of valuable things to say, even if it scatters what it has to say a little all over the place.
Mostly the charm outweighs the lack of focus. The bits of wisdom range from nonchalant to piercing. You never quite know what it’s going to say next, which is rare in movies these days. In addition, you feast on the casually stunning cinematography of Luca Bigazzi. There’s a real dazzle to the outdoor shots in the lovely Alpine valley. It’s always fantastic when God pitches in as a production designer.
Texas-based Kevin Bowen is one of ScreenComment’s longest-serving contributors. He’s an SEO marketer and film critic.