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Film review: Youth – Michael Caine plays bitter widower in Paolo Sorrentino’s symphonic tale

The director serves up a perfect cinematic cocktail – dizzying and dazzling – in a rumination on ageing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 4:00pm

Fresh off his Oscar win for The Great Beauty , Paolo Sorrentino is back with Youth, a surreal meditation on the ageing process that returns him to English-language filmmaking: the Italian’s only previous foray into English was 2011’s curious This Must Be the Place, a not entirely successful US road movie with Sean Penn.

This is a more sedate European affair, starring Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger, a retired composer now seeking respite in a luxurious Swiss spa resort. At the outset, Ballinger is approached by an emissary of Queen Elizabeth II to play his most famous composition, Simple Songs, at a concert.

Refusing the request, it rather sums up this embittered shell of a man, a widower who carries guilt over his behaviour as a husband and endures a difficult relationship with his daughter (Rachel Weisz). About the only person with whom he remains friends is has-been film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a fellow resident at the spa.

READ MORE: Michael Caine, Paolo Sorrentino on new film Youth, life, and naked women

This being Sorrentino, the film has an almost symphonic feel; images and music are perfectly choreographed (you suspect the Italian a much better conductor than his character). Compared to The Great Beauty and Sorrentino’s earlier film Il Divo, the style is more languid, less frenetic, in keeping with the theme of life ebbing away.

As the camera lingers on the melancholic Caine, the actor offers up one of the more soulful performances of his career. With fine support from Paul Dano and Jane Fonda, it’s a perfect cinematic cocktail – dizzying and dazzling.

Youth opens on March 17

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