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domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2016

Youth review: 'a plunge pool of a film'

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel escape the past in an alpine hotel in Paolo Sorrentino's gorgeous but shallow follow-up to The Great Beauty
How on earth do you move on from a masterpiece like The Great Beauty? The slightly disappointing answer, if you’re Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, is you don’t. It was three years ago that Sorrentino unveiled his extraordinary, career-topping meditation on art and death – a film that staggered me so comprehensively that, when I first saw it, I remember dumbly standing up in awe during its closing credits, which no doubt annoyed the hell out of whoever was sitting behind me.
Let’s just say that I wasn’t similarly overcome by Youth, which feels very much like a small-scale, low-calorie alternative to the earlier film’s full-fat, coronary-inducing splendour.



Both poke around in similar philosophical territory, and use superficially similar lead characters to do it. Where The Great Beauty centred on Toni Servillo’s ageing writer, Jep Gambardella, on a valedictory trawl through the Roman demimonde, Youth has Michael Caine’s Fred Ballinger, a retired composer on his annual visit to a chic alpine spa, while musing on his imperfect past and avoiding his future as best he can (when we meet him, he’s fending off an envoy from the Royal Family: the Queen wants him to conduct at Prince Phillip’s birthday concert).
With his thick-framed glasses and swept-back hair, Caine has been styled as Jep’s doppelgänger, and it suits him – not least because Jep was a reimagining of Marcello Mastroianni’s character from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, who was himself a major influence on Caine’s own horn-rimmed, snugly tailored Sixties look. And he’s on fine late-career form here, investing the role with a moving, sepia-tinted pathos that carries the film through its thinner moments.
Youth
Melancholic: Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine in YouthCredit: Festival de Cannes
Fred spends most of his time with two companions: his old friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an elderly film director plotting his comeback movie with a drove of young screenwriters, and Lena (an excellent Rachel Weisz), his daughter and personal assistant. Lena’s husband, Mick’s son, has left her for the pop star Paloma Faith, who pops up in a bizarre and distracting extended cameo (Keitel: “Who the f- - - are you?” Faith: “I’m Paloma Faith, and I’m not a whore, I’m a singer.” It goes downhill from there.)
Between them, Mick and Lena afford Fred ample opportunity to reflect on his various parental, romantic and professional regrets. Unfortunately, Sorrentino’s ear for English dialogue hasn’t improved since his previous English-language film, This Must Be the Place, and Youth’s characters’ reflections frequently come off as shallow or smug.
Other spa guests include a Hollywood actor (Paul Dano) and the reigning Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea), though neither feels like a necessary presence in either the film or Fred’s reflections. Jane Fonda, who has a loud third-act cameo as a wilting movie-industry grandee, fares a little better.
What buoys things up is the beauty of the film itself. Luca Bigazzi, Sorrentino’s regular director of photography, turns the spa into a drool-inducing slideshow of expansively glamorous tableaux – and there is an additional eerie stasis to the shots of guests wandering the corridors in dressing gowns that’s reminiscent of the similar spa in the dreamlike Robert Altman film 3 Women.
The facilities are tempting, elegantly designed, and shallow – and Youth is very much a plunge pool of a film. The shimmering surface is beguiling, but for depth and exercise, dip 

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