Thursday, February 11, 2016

Youth (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Youth” Looks At Aging 
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hotels make excellent metaphorical stages in movies, a cinematic proscenium where interesting players can strut and fret. Think: “Grand Hotel” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or even “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

It is to a 5-star resort hotel (Waldhaus Flims) nestled in the eastern foothills of the Swiss Alps that Italian director Paolo Sorrentino brings his players in his second-ever English-language film, “Youth.”

“Youth” is showing at Tropic Cinema.

Starring octogenarian Michael Caine and septuagenarians Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda, the title is a deliberate misnomer. The film looks at the contradictions of aging with a touch of surrealism and sadness.

Here we find a retired composer and his fading filmmaker friend vacationing at the hotel. Fred Ballinger (Caine) is there with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weicz) who acts as his assistant. His director pal Mike Boyle (Keitel) is there with a coterie of writers trying to finish a screenplay. Lena is married to Mike’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard), who has just dumped her for an insignificant pop singer (Palona Faith playing herself).

For these messages about youth and aging, we are introduced to Mike’s favorite star, aging diva Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda in super-thick pancake makeup); frustrated actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), best known for playing a robot; retired Argentinian footballer Diego Armando Maradona (Roly Serrano), body now turned to fat; a well-toned young masseuse (Luna Zimic Mijovic); and a newly crowned Miss Universe (Romanian model Mădălina Diana Ghenea). Colorful characters all, perfect for a hotel setting.

Fred and Mike talk about their lives, which are mostly behind them. Abandoned by her husband, Lena expresses anger at her father, who ignored her as a child. An emissary from Queen Elizabeth asks Fred to perform his famous composition “Simple Songs” at Prince Phillip’s birthday concert, but he crankily refuses. Mike completes his screenplay, but Brenda turns down the movie for a TV part. “Cinema is the past,” she snubs him.

A melancholy reflection on life passing by is not a new theme for Pablo Sorrentino. He won an Academy Award for “The Great Beauty.”

American composer David Lang wrote the music, including the piece being requested for Prince Phillip’s birthday. “Simple Songs #3” has been nominated this year for an Academy Award.

At the 28th European Film Awards, “Youth” won Best Film, Best Director for Sorrentino, and Best Actor for Caine.

However, as one moviegoer put it, “If you’re searching for the meaning of life or some morsel of wisdom, you will be at a loss.”

Didn’t Shakespeare say something about a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? Maybe he was talking about the meaning of life.

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