When it comes to strikingly beautiful films, Youth is one of those films. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but it combines a deep story with some real and emotional performances.
Directed and written by Italian Paolo Sorrentino (his second English film since This Must Be the Place), Sorrentino is known for gorgeous filmmaking, having won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2014 (for The Great Beauty). Here, he doesn’t shy away from breathtaking imagery. It’s like watching a beautiful piece of art unfold before your eyes. Then he adds in some of the best performances from Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda to make this a rare masterpiece.
Fred Ballinger (Caine) is a retired orchestra conductor and composter on holiday in the Swiss Alps with his daughter Lena (Weisz) and his film director best friend Mick Boyle (Keitel). Ballinger is approached by a staff person of the Queen Elizabeth to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday, but he denies the invitation since it is something he does not do anymore.
Meanwhile, Boyle is working with his staff of screenwriters to complete the screenplay for his next film, which is going to star Hollywood actress Brenda Morel (Fonda). The team is having a hard time coming up with a solid ending, and they spend most of their time bouncing off ideas.
Ballinger, on the other hand, is learning to deal with the fact that he is getting older, and with the drama of Lena and Mick’s son’s divorce. Mick’s son is leaving Lena for a pop star. This causes Lena to express some deep and ugly feelings for the way Fred treated the family during her younger years, presumably never giving a damn for Lena’s mother.
Finally, towards the end we get to see Fonda in full swing as actress Brenda Morel. She visits Mick to tell him that she will not be doing his new film, as he has lost is edge and can no longer make good films. This causes Mick to question his career and what he plans to do next with his life. The whole film is a journey of love, youth, past, present, future and death.
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are simply wonderful in this film. They have superb chemistry, each playing a completely different person. Caine is this more reserved man who does not want to compose anymore, even though the Queen keeps on insisting he does, while Keitel adds some humor to the film. Paul Dano also plays a supporting role as an actor and does a fine job.
Rachel Weisz is very good as Lena’s daughter, struggling to cope with the fact that she learns about her husband’s affair right as they are about to board a plane for a holiday of their own. She is gorgeous and real. BUT, the real standout female performance is Jane Fonda’s small role. The woman has received a Golden Globe nomination for this performance, and I hope she receives an Oscar nomination, as well. Fonda gives a bravura performance, giving it her all and not holding back. It’s her best work in a very long time, stealing the show with her big blonde wig and coping with the fact that she is not young anymore.
When it comes to the directing, Paolo Sorrentino is superb. He makes every frame look like a gorgeous photograph or painting, with help from cinematographer Luca Bigazzi. Seriously, give this cinematographer an Oscar nomination already. He’s amazing.
Paolo Sorrentino also wrote the screenplay for the film, which is also marvelous. There are some real emotionally deep and real scenes that may hit close to home for some people. The actors deliver each scene with gusto, surely making Sorrentino very happy.
Due to the artistic nature and deep subject matter, some people may not find Youth to be their cup of tea. However, it is, in my opinion, one of the best films of 2015 and this decade, thanks to Sorrentino, the terrific cast and Luca Bigazzi. Rated R.