Friday, December 4, 2015

Movie with Abe: Youth

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Released December 4, 2015

A one-word title can often say much more than a few words or even a short sentence can. Naming a film may well be the most difficult part of making it, capturing its essence when its themes are varied and not contained to a particular character whose name could easily serve as its identifier. “Youth” is a word that evokes images of childhood and strength, and, as a result, calling a film that features two actors pushing eighty in the lead roles presents much opportunity for contemplation. That’s a good way to describe this film, a meditation on plenty of things, age, art, and fame chief among them.

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a mild-mannered man, one who speaks rarely and deliberately and spends much more time observing the world around him. If not for the Queen’s emissary trying to convince him to conduct a performance for Her Majesty, those on holiday alongside him would have no idea that Fred was once a revered conductor and composer. His friend Mick (Harvey Keitel) is prestigious enough in his own right, working with a handful of younger writers to pen the script for his next film. Others vacationing alongside them, such as Jimmy (Paul Dano), a young method actor, and Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), are unfazed by Fred, well aware of who he is and the advantages and pitfalls of being in his company.

Knowing that this film is Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to his Oscar winner “The Great Beauty” helps this film make a lot more sense. Its central story, following characters on their explorations of their current states and all that has led up to the present moment, is undoubtedly intriguing, yet plot is hardly central to this film. There are moments at which the film drifts off into fantasies and other imagined hallucinations, putting its events on hold as characters are distracted by a sound or a memory. Sometimes, it feels that the camera itself has been compelled by something other than the film’s own story, which adds depth at times and serves as a detriment at others.

Caine and Keitel are actors who have been working for decades and, unlike some colleagues and contemporaries, they have maintained a relatively solid and respectable quality of work. Caine is, as usual, subdued and effective, and Keitel is particularly well-cast as the director who still thinks he is brilliant and needs the reminder to continue along. Weisz and Jane Fonda both have standout supporting scenes as women from the men’s lives who play a much larger part than they might admit in shaping who they were and are. “Youth” is a haunting, insightful film that sometimes overreaches or seems to get lost, but when it is focused, it is mesmerizing.


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