|'That the two men might be towards the end of their lives and gaining new perspective on a variety of areas is less hinted at by Sorrentino, more rammed down your throat.'|
Whilst in The Great Beauty director Paolo Sorrentino managed to find a great deal of clarity in amongst a lot of abstract thinking, in Youth he manages only to find a great deal of confusion in amongst some very obvious imagery.
Stuck in a purgatory-alike Swiss spa, populated by all walks of humanity (a very serious climber, a Buddhist monk, Miss Universe, Maradona), composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) postulate on their past and their differing futures. Ballinger is being wooed by an emissary from the Queen who wants him to come out of retirement and conduct one more time, whilst Boyle is trying to put the finishing touches on a script for long time muse Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda).
That the two men might be towards the end of their lives and gaining new perspective on a variety of areas is less hinted at by Sorrentino, more rammed down your throat. Very early on Ballinger is shown walking across a great expanse of water whilst slowly sinking, with Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) heading in the opposite direction. That is followed up by a litany of similar examples (lifts full of different ages of people pass each other, heading in other directions), to the point where you wonder if Sorrentino just forgot that he had included some of them.
As with The Great Beauty, the plot is largely unimportant to the musing, but it's interesting that, again, the director seems less sure of himself and includes several potential distractions for those who need some structure. The breakdown of Ballinger's daughter's (Rachel Weisz) marriage is one of the less successful ones (though it does give the opportunity for one of the most unexpected cameos of the year), whilst the research of young actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, in career best supporting form) provides more promising ground and more interesting conversations.
The presences of Tree and Boyle though means that Sorrentino almost can't seem to help himself but comment on cinema itself, something surely to be avoided unless you've got something significant to say, reflected in the wider film. Youth does not feel like it has and the echoes of 81/2 (in both story and visuals) just make this seem a weaker piece by comparison. Boyle's eventual conversation with Brenda about cinema is, again, so heavy-handed and so laden with inference that you can't help but feel disconnected.
There are lighter moments (the aforementioned cameo gives Caine a great line about an insignificant person), including a fantastic joke about Maradona (Roly Serrano) and there is some really good stuff here, but most of it is hidden behind a layer of decidedly unsubtle 'thinking', which begins to grate long before the close.
Youth is released in UK cinemas on Friday 29th January 2016.
The 29th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-19th November 2015 at venues around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House, Cottage Road Cinema and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.