Two aging friends (Michael Caine as an orchestra conductor and Harvey Keitel as a movie director) share a vacation at a lavish Swiss spa with various minor characters contributing ensemble performances in vignettes that the director weaves into a tapestry about growing old. Unfortunately, I left the theater feeling the tapestry needed some reweaving. (RME: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Guest Critic Rand M. Eller
I went to see the movie “Youth” with my sister and brother-in-law in Asheville, NC while visiting for the holidays (Christmas and Hanukah – my tradition, having grown up celebrating both). My relatives had heard great things about the movie and were excited to go see it. I had heard nothing about it, so I went, knowing only what I heard from my sister and brother-in-law – that it starred Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, and Rachel Weisz. But, I think highly of Michael and Harvey and their previous work…and am in love with Rachel (what red-blooded guy of my age wouldn’t be), so I figured why not.
Although, I walked into the theater (the beautiful, historic, and affordable Fine Arts Theater in Downtown Asheville) with no expectations, I walked out with the same feeling as my relatives who entered with great expectations. After leaving the movie, we walked down the street headed to a restaurant for dinner. After almost three full minutes of silence, we all looked at each other and said, “Huh???” – a reaction similar to my response to the movie “Blow up” (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966). I knew that there was something there that I was supposed to understand – a message – but d*mn if I could figure out what it was.
Fortunately, as sometimes happens, I went to bed that night and dreamed about “Youth” and woke up the next morning feeling like I had at least figured out parts and pieces. So here is my analysis [Warning: spoilers ahead; read no further if you plan to see the movie and want to make up your own mind].
First, the acting and cinematography are superb. Every camera shot could be a picture post card promoting the Swiss Alps hotel / spa where the movie (mostly) takes place. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi should, at least, get several nominations for his camera work. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel turn in their expected, highly professional performances respectively as Fred Ballinger, a mostly retired, world-renowned orchestra conductor, and his long time friend, Mick Boyle, a movie director struggling to make one more movie as he comes to the end of his career. Rachel Weisz plays Fred Ballinger’s daughter and manager, Lena, who is struggling in her marriage and in her relationship with her father. In one masterful scene, Lena and Fred are getting mud bath treatments at the Alps hotel / spa where they are vacationing when Lena launches into an almost four minute monologue on how her father has failed her and her mother while the camera holds a tight shot on her face. You can see every emotion behind every word on Rachel’s character’s face – an incredible piece of acting to hold camera and character for that long and communicate feelings that rings true from beginning to end.
Now, for the confusing parts. The director (Paolo Sorrentino) and film editor (Cristiano Travaglioli) seem determined to mimic Fellini (as many other reviewers have noted) in the style of the movie. I don’t know…maybe it’s an Italian thing? Anyway, they intercut dream sequences (Mick Boyle confronting all his past leading ladies on a Swiss hillside), reactions by old acquaintances (an almost unrecognizable Jane Fonda as a boozy, old movie star), and minor characters doing things that seem unrelated (Alps climbing guide taking little girl up a climbing wall on his back; overweight, asthmatic, over-the-hill soccer star kicking a tennis ball around; a young, masseuse at the spa practicing yoga) in a seemingly random manner.
My own dream sequence, the night that I saw the movie, helped me resolve some of the scenes into a consistent narrative that is, I think, about how we adjust to aging and how we relate to the next generation. In one scene, Fred Ballinger (Caine) comes upon a young boy, practicing violin and playing the “Simple Songs” that Fred wrote years before. The boy compliments the compositions and Fred helps the boy correct his bow position to improve his playing. The Alps climbing guide literally carries the next generation (a little girl) on his back up a climbing wall that she could not scale on her own. The obese, aging, asthmatic, soccer star tries to relive his glory days by repeatedly kicking a tennis ball into the air without it touching the ground – a very impressive feat (pun intended) – just to prove to himself that he can still do it. However, if anyone can explain to me the significance of the silent couple at dinner that eventually is espied rutting like rabbits in the woods by Fred and Mick, please let me know. I still don’t get that one.
Being a now retired, 65 year old father of a 15-year old son and 18-year old daughter, questions of “…how we adjust to aging and how we relate to the next generation” are much on my mind. So, Youth should have resonated with me and helped me wrestle with those questions. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I felt it showed me anything that I didn’t already know.
Rand M. Eller is a long-time friend of FF2 Founders Jan & Richard, and thanks them for the opportunity to contribute this review to FF2 Blog.
Top Photo: Michael Caine stars as composer “Fred Ballinger.”
Middle Photo: Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter “Lena,” poolside with Mick.
Bottom Photo: Fred and film director “Mick Boyle” (Harvey Keitel) enjoy all the privileges of wealth at a luxurious spa in Italy. But they find no Fountain of Youth there that can restore them to their former selves.
Photo Credits: Gianni Fiorito © 2015 Fox Searchlight