Sunday, February 14, 2016

Youth (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Paolo Sorrentino, perhaps the closest to Federico Fellini in current cinema, both engages and confuses again in "Youth," an ambitious follow up to the excellently rendered "The Great Beauty."

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a septuagenarean composer on holiday, consumed by his wife's illness. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is a dyspeptic film director and writer who ties himself in mental knots. Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is a young bohemian actor trying to tap into his next role and detach himself from typecasting. They are all here sunning themselves at a Swiss Alps resort.

There are a multitude of stories in this existential tale and the film is nothing less then a cinema equivalent of the author Thomas Mann in breadth and tone. Ballinger walks through each level of the resort with a strange mixed expression of passivity and regret. As in Sorrentino's previous film, odd characters propel themselves like silent satellites around the periphery of Ballinger's realm. Most of the time he is a silent observer, preoccupied with memory and loss. At times, he spies only the curve of a woman's shoulder or the isolated mound of an exposed breast, as rare as an island. Touch is foreign to Ballinger but he can always look. Throughout the film, Ballinger emerges as a kind of human camera. Events occur around him constantly be they gradual or sudden but the musician is often neutral and slow to react. The one time he does emote violently, is during a meeting with the Queen's emmisary (Alexander McQueen)

Both Jane Fonda and pop star Paloma Faith appear as an egocentric actress and a video star, respectively, along with a somewhat formidable simulation of the Argentine football legend, Maradona.

The film is shot beautifully with the power and clarity of a painting by Salvador Dali.

It is less compact and concise than the director's previous outing as there are several subplots to be found, but the film has a laser sharp yet haunting quality that makes a cinematic parallel to either the salacious Dali or the deadpan Magritte. Not all of it makes for coherence. Why, for instance, does Jimmy Tree suddenly inhabit Adolph Hitler?  Still, the film works on an associative level, having the rhythm of a dream.

While the work of Sorrentino might take a patient eye, "Youth" is a fitting bookend to the more percussive chapter of "The Great Beauty." Seen together, the two films appear to correspond to the other as two sides of one haunting image: the first, one  of noisy sexuality, the second, of silent longing.

Both films, either conjoined or separated make a wistful feast.

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