There is an argument to be had that Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is the finest piece of cinema of the last five years, and undoubtedly one of the most ineffably wondrous, provocative pieces of the 21st century. So following that is by no means an easy task – and while not nearly as accomplished a piece, the Italian auteur is not too far off with his moving, surrealist drama Youth.
We delve into the life of Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who are vacationing together in a grandiose hotel near the Alps. The former is a retired composer, while the latter continues to practise his craft as a filmmaker. Mick is desperately attempting to finish off his screenplay for his next – and most likely, final – endeavour, while Fred may be enticed back into conducting, when proposed with the idea of playing for the Queen at Prince Philip’s forthcoming birthday.
Among the guests at the hotel are Mick’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), Hollywood actor (Jimmy Tree), not to mention the pensive elderly couple who appear never to talk to one another, the nondescript and yet patently obvious Argentine ex-footballer who bears a rather uncanny resemblance to that of Neapolitan hero Diego Maradona. Even Miss Universe is seen wondering around, naked. All of the guests are overstated, almost surrealist, fantastical creations that aren’t quite real while feeling so human all the same. Perhaps it’s because we see the world from the curious, playful perspective of our two protagonists, adopting their combination of Fred’s monotony and Mick’s creativity, leaving us in limbo, always unsure what to believe and comprehend about the environment we’ve inhabited.
Distinctive to Sorrentino’s work, there’s something immensely profound and beautiful about this picture, while it remains gloriously, and endearingly eccentric, not always making sense, because it doesn’t always have to. And yet there’s always a greater meaning, and it’s that which keeps us so compelled and absorbed, albeit self-indulgent to say the least. Cinema has a knack for playing with our senses and making us feel something, and Sorrentino, yet again, has provided that in abundance. This may not be on the same level as The Great Beauty, but it’s a bar that had been set awfully, and almost unfairly, high.