Directed and written by Paolo Sorrentino, Youth ethereally explores the juxtaposition between old and young, parent and child and the decay of the human body, mind and memory. Set in a Swiss health spa, retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and his old script writer friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), reflect on their physical and mental deterioration contrasted by the healthy glow of the spa’s staff and other celebrity clients.
Ballinger’s personal assistant and daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz) serves as a reminder of Ballinger’s failings as a father and husband, but also as our connection to his artistic past. It is the reconciliation between the two that connects young to old. But away from existentialism there is plenty of humour too. A scene where Ballinger and Boyle secretly watch an older couple have sex in a forest in order to win a bet mirrors the cheeky pubescent curiosity of late childhood. A cameo from Paloma Faith; a parody of the modern female pop star, also contributes to a humorous absurdity.
Sometimes one goes to the cinema to escape oneself and certainly the soporific nature of Youth is the perfect film to help you do this. However, if it’s a gripping plot line you seek to cure your melancholia, this may not be the film for you. Through Sorrentino’s characteristic swooping camera moves, pensive close ups and surrealist dream-like fantasy scenes similarly seen in his 2013 release, ‘The Great Beauty’, Youth floats you through its key themes – although there are a few tidal waves along the way. For example, there’s a somewhat flat scene between ex-Hollywood goddess, Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) and Boyle which reeks of fan-boyism on Sorrentino’s part. However, Youth is skilfully bound by a superb soundtrack, featuring Sun Kil Moon and classical pieces composed by Ballinger (James Parker) which help you follow Sorrentino’s vision.
If you’re prepared to trust Sorrentino down his hypnagogic stream, you will reap the rewards of his exploration.