Cannes Day 8: Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’ looks at old age

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.

"Youth"
“Youth”

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.

Cannes Day 4: Moretti’s ‘My Mother’ is a heartbreaker

Actresses Margherita Buy, Beatrice Mancini, director Nanni Moretti, actress Giulia Lazzarini and actor John Turturro attend a photocall for "Mia Madre" ("My Mother") during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Actresses Margherita Buy, Beatrice Mancini, director Nanni Moretti, actress Giulia Lazzarini and actor John Turturro attend a photocall for “Mia Madre” (“My Mother”) during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Italian director Nanni Moretti gets at a troubling topic that all of us will face, if we haven’t already — the death of our mothers.

It’s a fictional story, but it has lots of autobiographical elements, especially since Moretti recently lost his mother.

The movie focuses on Margherita (Margherita Buy), a director who’s in the middle of making a movie about unemployment and social unrest in Italy. She’s a demanding director, and she has a troublesome star, Barry (John Turturro), who plays a capitalist who is taking over an industrial facility and coping poorly with sit-down strikes.

But Barry has another problem: Although funny and lively, he can’t remember his lines. And that’s the last thing Margherita needs, because she has a lot on her plate in her private life. Her mother’s lungs and heart are giving out, and the mother has been confined to a hospital. The prognosis is not good.

She and her brother Giovanni (Moretti, who frequently stars in his movies) provide loving care to the mother, visiting her often and bringing her specialty meals. But they gradually learn that their mother is dying and that there’s no hope for recovery.

Margherita has also broken off a relationship, and she has a daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) has been having troubles of her own, with her first teenage relationship ending in a shambles.

The movie’s heart lies, however, in the relationship between Margherita and her mother Ada (Giuila Lazzarini), and there’s one particular scene near the end, where she’s trying to help her mother to the bathroom, that will break your heart.

As you can probably gather, “My Mother” won’t be a box-office hit. But it doesn’t try to be. It takes a very humanistic approach to a situation we all face in our lives. And it really hits home.

It probably won’t be released in the United States until much later this year, and it’ll probably be shown only on arthouse screens. But when you pair it with Woody Allen’s comments on Friday about how we use “distractions” to keep us from facing the reality of death, then this movie becomes even more resonant.

Allen says that uses movies as his distraction from reality. But here’s a movie that faces reality head-on. Along with the Hungarian Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” it should be in the running for one of the festival’s top prizes.

‘Goodbye to Language 3D’ to screen in Austin

 

A dog is one of the big stars in Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language 3D." Kino Lorber
A dog is one of the big stars in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language 3D.” Kino Lorber

Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave auteur who shot to fame with 1960’s “Breathless,” has a new movie that’s opening in Austin on Friday, but there’s a caveat. It’s screening only once a day, and only at one theater, the Alamo South.

Still, for adventurous Central Texas cinephiles, the movie, “Goodbye to Language 3D,” shouldn’t be missed.

I saw the movie at the Cannes Film Festival last May, but it hasn’t screened in Austin, so it’s risky to write a full review based on memories of many months ago. But I can say it doesn’t have a plot that can easily be described. Instead, it’s a meditation of various philosophical issues. It centers on a married woman and a single man, who have a tumultuous relationship over time. And there’s a dog.

Godard has long been associated with experimental cinema, and introduced the world to the hand-held camera, much to some people’s dismay. This time, he’s experimenting with 3D in unusual ways. For instance, in one scene, a naked man and a naked woman appear on screen, and the image is quite blurry through the 3D glasses. But if you close one eye you can see the naked woman, and if you close the other eye, you can see the naked man. It’s sort of a 3D of choice, and this goes on at special moments throughout the film.

It’s a playful device, and the movie is much more playful than some of his last few films. A big part of the movie focuses on Godard’s dog, a mutt that wanders around nature as voiceovers discuss what the dog might be thinking or doing. Godard sees the dog as being much more in touch with the world than humans. And he notes at one point that dogs are the only living creatures who love someone else, their masters, more than they love themselves.

Make no mistake. This is strictly an arthouse film. It was hard to sit in the audience at Cannes and not think that you were a part of a French version of the “Saturday Night Live” skit the Sprockets, featuring the pretentious avant-garde German duo, dressed in black. But that’s somehow appropriate, since it makes you laugh at the whole scene. And some of “Goodbye to Language” is quite funny.

The jurors at Cannes gave Godard, who’s in his 80s, the jury prize for “Goodbye to Language.” Godard shared that prize with Xavier Dolan, the 25-year-old French-Canadian director, for “Mommy,” which is scheduled to open in Austin. Feb. 6.

The mutt, named Roxy, won the Palme Dog, the tongue-in-cheek prize for the best performance by a dog in Cannes.