Friday, January 15, 2016

Youth: Surprisingly Wondrous

     Since Youth is written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, I expected it to be visually gorgeous and it is; since it stars Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, and Jane Fonda, I assumed it would be well acted and it is; what I didn’t bargain for was how funny it is.  Taking place at an exclusive spa in Switzerland and presenting both those that work there and the wealthy, influential patrons visiting, it gives every character her or his due.  

At the Spa
     Taking Fellini’s concentration on the ‘interesting face’ to the next level, Sorrentino shows all types of partly or completely nude bodies.  It’s never done in a prurient way, which already tips the viewer off to the fact that this is not an American director.  The spa setting feels like a tip of a new generation to the master’s fedora in 8 ½ (1963).  Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography is exquisite, but never for the sake of mere beauty; he regards Fonda’s wig and the young masseuse’s videogame dancing with a deadpan wit even as they’re lit perfectly.  David Lang’s music provides the required sense of significance since the main character is a famous composer.  The final scenes when that character, played by Michael Caine, conducts coloratura Sumi Jo are simply magical (and, guess what kids – some of them in the midst of mid-life crises – no special effects)!  As with a number of other contemporary directors, the collaboration between Sorrentino, Bigazzi, and Lang creates a symbiosis that enriches each individual project.

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel
     Caine and Keitel, as a movie director working on a script with a group of young up-and-coming writers, make a great comic duo as friends, who’ve known each other for decades and who also happen to be in-laws.  The composer has retired, but can hear music everywhere; like it or not, he cannot escape composing.  The director is blocked, but willing to consider every possibility.  The relationship is the linchpin for the movie’s themes and the plot.  There are a couple of very significant lines:  Caine’s “we have a good relationship; we only tell each other the good things” and Keitel’s “all we have are emotions.”  Caine deliberately slows his movements to seem older than his actual age, while Keitel is both physically frisky and as off beat sexy as he was in The Piano (1993).

Rachel Weisz
     Weisz delivers a blistering monologue about her growing up with aplomb, torn between her parents and simultaneously loyal to and betrayed by her husband and father.  It’s great to see her spirited since the last time we viewed her was as the depressing wife in The Deep Blue Sea (2011).  Paul Dano performs as a young actor researching a role he might play and when we see the test make-up, it’s both shocking because of its accuracy, but also hilarious because of the other spa guests’ reactions.  Fonda’s make-up is 
Jane Fonda
also funny and chilling; she nails her scene with Keitel in which she’s imperious, self-serving, and ruthlessly honest.

Orchestra with Sumi Jo
     It’s one of those movies where at the end, when the theatre remained in darkness, as Lang’s music continued, I was so glad.  Well, until I heard the aged suburban couple behind me.  He:  It was good, but I preferred Spotlight.  She:  This was arty, but that was more real.  I hope they don't choke on an apple and an orange.


Lane Pederson said...

Beautifully written review...good enough for a national column.

Dexter said...

Thanks for the wonderful compliment!