Following the award-winning success of La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, writer-director Paolo Sorrentino brings us his second English language film, Youth. With a cast including Sir Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano, the film consists of people reflecting on their own lives whilst on holiday in the Swiss Alps.
Michael Caine plays the film’s main character, Frank, an acclaimed, although retired, composer and conductor. The role is seemingly unlike anything Caine has done before. His most recent film was Kingsman: The Secret Service. In Youth, however, Caine performs—and fleshes out—his role perfectly. You can tell that the role was, literally, written for him. Despite his age, he is 82-years-old, and in Youth, Caine proves that he has certainly still got it.
In addition, Harvey Keitel plays Mick, an ageing director who is looking to finish writing the script for the film that will be his ‘testament’. Unfortunately for Keitel, his role seems insignificant in contrast to Caine’s role. Keitel’s character ultimately stands out as a secondary character. The cameo appearance of Paloma Faith playing herself, the footballer Maradona played by a lookalike, and a levitating monk—all manage to add several secondary, one-dimensional elements to the film.
Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano are secondary characters only on paper, playing Frank’s daughter and assistant Leda, and actor Jimmy Tree respectively. To many, these characters will prove to be the highlights of the film. It is fantastic to see each of their interactions with Michael Caine’s character, as well as their own reflections on life. Rachel Weisz’s character is particularly fascinating. We watch her go from divorcing her husband, getting angry with her father, and finally forming a relationship with mountain climber Luca, played by Robert Seethaler. Luca Bigazzi, as the film’s cinematographer, is also worth noting. He does a fantastic job of “accepting the beauty of the Swiss Alps”, as he has put it.
Ultimately, Youth is a film which is based on ideas bigger than the Swiss Alps themselves, and the film’s characters are merely used as a way of expressing—and relating—these ideas to us as members of the audience. The film does this well, But by adding Harvey Keitel’s obviously secondary character, cameo appearances, and an attempt at comedy, and there is a lot to wade through to get to what Youth is about. And to be honest, because of these additions, I am still not quite sure.