Resort genre films are curious things that work by isolating interesting character-types from their real lives into a fantasy setting where they can reflect, explore, regret or die. Youth (2015) does this using a painterly canvas of mostly humorous insights into love, success, failure and life’s inescapable endpoint. Set in a luxury alpine resort amidst stunning scenery, the separate human sketches are individual artworks that merge into an opus greater than the sum of its parts. The cinematography and dramatic musical score forms a melancholic symphony blending sounds and images of youth and beauty, ageing and dying. It can just as easily confuse, overwhelm, or delight the senses.
Like life itself, the film is full of opposites: Michael Caine is the self-obsessed Maestro, the composer whose creativity has dried up as he mourns for his dying wife and once stellar career. Harvey Keitel, as film producer Mick, cannot stop working even though his films peaked a long time ago. When his long-time leading lady Brenda (Jane Fonda) tells him his career as a producer is finished, it triggers a masterful scene of understated pathos that many viewers will miss entirely unless paying close attention. As quick as a blink, Mick exits as just another extra on the stage of life.
But the elephant in the room asks: is this an old man’s film? No it is not, and there is something for everyone. A voluptuous Miss Universe provides the marketing eye-candy with a few seconds of bare flesh and intelligent dialogue to prove beauty and brains co-exist. Maestro’s beautiful daughter Lena, dumped by a husband wanting better sex, delivers a tour de force monologue about her absent father. An ex-sci-fi star offers deadpan wisdom wrapped in wry humour, and a monk’s parodic levitation reminds everyone not to take it all too seriously. The wit and wisdom of beautiful young people cuts through the homilies of elders to stop Youth from being just a maudlin tale of loss. Unexpectedly, this one slides onto my list of all-time favourites.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Stars: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda