Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is only in his mid-40s, but since “The Great Beauty,” he has been reflecting on old age. His latest, “Youth,” stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as two men nearing their 80s and looking back on love and life.
As Fred, Caine has settled into retirement, and keeps pestering his old friend Mick (Keitel) about whether he slept with a woman whom Fred loved. Both of them are spending the summer at a resort in the Alps, where Mick is working on a screenplay for his new movie. (He’s a prominent American director, although his last few movies haven’t been great successes.)
Fred, meanwhile, just wants to be left alone to contemplate life and savor the quiet moments. He was once a world-renowned composer and conductor, and his reverie at the spa is being continuously interrupted by an emissary from the queen, who wants him to conduct one of his greatest pieces one last time, as a special favor. He refuses. The emissary returns. They argue over and over, and finally, he admits that he wrote the piece for his currently institutionalized wife, and that she’s the only one who has ever sung it, so he doesn’t want anyone else to have the role.
Various subplots emerge as the two old friends remember their past glories. There’s Lena (Rachel Weisz), Fred’s daughter, who has just been dumped by her husband. There’s Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), an American actor who wants to achieve glory but is known only for playing a robot beneath 200 pounds of steel. And there’s Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, the plain-speaking actress slated to star in Mick’s new movie.
As with “The Great Beauty,” Sorrentino is not only making a movie that is distinctly his own, but also paying homage to Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. The atmospherics of “Youth” are downright Fellini-esque, with levitating monks and fanciful apparitions. Also like “Great Beauty,” music plays a huge role, especially at the end.
The reception in Cannes was favorable, although a few boos could be heard among the cheers, which is not unusual. But in this case, those who booed need to take another look at this highly imaginative, beautifully photographed film.
Coming up late tonight: “The Assassin,” from director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.