Cannes: Youth review

Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is a gorgeous bauble of a movie: shining, beguiling, hollow.

The film takes place in a luxury Swiss resort in the foothills of the Alps. Staying in this magnificent hotel, which is so extravagant it almost made me gag, are Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel). These two old friends are well into their eighties and somewhat preoccupied with what this means.

Fred is a retired composer and has, to some degree, given up on life. He’s consumed by ennui and the lack of connection he feels with other humans.

Mick is staying in the hotel to work on his screenplay, and does not appear, at least on the surface, to be quite so fatalistic. Even still, there’s a definite sense that he is rather concerned with his own mortality, looking backwards to a more exciting past and forwards only to his death bed.

With Youth, Sorrentino is once again, following his previous opulent but empty feature The Great Beauty, concerning himself primarily with themes of nostalgia, regret, death and art, but these themes provide only mere, vague shadings in a lavish, large scale painting.

Youth is a truly beautiful sight to behold, with cinematographer Luca Bigazzi again filling each wide 2.35:1 frame with attractive compositions and vibrant colour. The audience might simply wish to recline and drink in the allure of it all. It seems like Bigazzi can make anything look beautiful, though with nothing to undercut this, the effect does feel somewhat numbing by the time the film reaches its operatic, emotionally reaching, though mostly flat climax.

Caine’s performance is at times very moving, with the actor conveying a sadness without forcing it, but he is not well supported by Sorrentino’s script or direction. Rachel Weisz, who plays his daughter Leda, is equally as impressive in an underwritten role, often threatening to steal yet another film out from under the noses of its leads.

Even while Fred and the others are reasonably well-conceived creations they do not have a great deal to do, and the film is mostly concerned with showing them enjoying – or more often, not enjoying – the gorgeous surroundings and incredibly indulgent facilities at their disposal.

There are admittedly a number of rather amusing scenes, with some very humorous lines landing big laughs, and a cameo role from Paloma Faith that leads to a hilarious dream sequence. But these too fizzle out as the film progresses, and rather than being woven into an interesting story, the witty gags feel separate to the narrative, as if they were just sprinkled on top.

At one point during, the newly crowned Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) arrives to stay at the hotel and an actor played by Paul Dano, snarkily suggest that she is, perhaps, not so bright. In response, she reveals how wrong he is; she may be a great beauty but she also has brains. If only the same could be said about the whole film.