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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Youth” explores conundrums of aging

    In the follow-up to his 2013 Academy Award-winning film “The Great Beauty,” director Paolo Sorrentino delves into what’s left behind and still left to do in old age with his latest film, “Youth”.

    The film takes place at a luxurious resort tucked away in the Swiss Alps, which allows Sorrentino and the inhabitants of his film to wax philosophic on sweeping subjects like youth and dying. This is where the international upper class come to get away.
    This pause in life, set against sweeping pastures and towering mountains, allows for conversations that couldn’t happen anywhere else, let alone regular society.

    I am reminded of the ethereal bathhouse of the Japanese animated masterpiece “Spirited Away,” where spirits of all shapes and sizes would come for a deep cleansing. This Swiss resort is also a destination for wayward souls—figuratively, not literally—as in “Spirited Away’s” case.
    Among the resorts’ guests are a Buddhist monk that may or may not be able to levitate, and a retired, morbidly obese Diego Maradona, the legendary Argentine soccer player. Even Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) stops by as a vibrant, sensual vision in a setting of wrinkles and sags (I’m not sure if Ghenea modeled her performance after Miss Colombia or Miss Philippines).

    These additions to the supporting cast serve more as fixtures to the atmosphere than as characters. This atmosphere establishes the resort as a character, and in fact, may be the most interesting character in the entire film.

    Viewers are concerned primarily with Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) and Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano).

    Ballinger is a retired music conductor with slicked back white hair and thick-framed glasses, exactly like Jep Gambardella in “The Great Beauty,” who achieved global acclaim for his composition “Simple Songs.”

    In his twilight, he has absolutely no desire to take up music again, which poses a particular problem to an emissary of the queen (a small, delightful performance from Alex Macqueen). The queen desperately wants Ballinger to conduct pieces for Prince Philip’s birthday.

    In addition to music, Ballinger has no desire to participate in life, as his advanced age renders most pursuits irrelevant. In response to his dutiful daughter Lena’s plan to get him healthy and moving, Ballinger responds, “At my age, getting in shape is merely a waste of time.”

    Juxtaposing Ballinger’s hands-off attitude toward life is his best friend Mick Boyle, who refuses to give up the ghost. A successful Hollywood film director, Boyle has come to the resort with a group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed twenty-somethings to write his next great screenplay—his “testament,” as he deems it.

    Boyle is accompanied by another film luminary: a young actor, Jimmy Tree, who has the corners of his lips perpetually upturned ever so slightly, as if smirking about an inside joke.

    Tree believes himself wise beyond his years and considers Ballinger a kindred spirit. From Tree’s hair to the misunderstood artist shtick, Dano is channeling some serious LaBeoufian vibes.

    These characters stroll, sit and lounge about as they discuss their problems amidst pristine mountain vistas. Some conversations are engaging while others are roundabout and fail to go anywhere. When the mind starts to wander away from the conversation at hand, at least there’s gorgeous scenery to look at. You can’t help but wonder if the beautiful landscapes not only dwarf the characters and story in size, but also in terms of interest.

    Although Sorrentino pursues some story strands that seem superfluous (for examples, whether the monk can actually levitate or not), the feelings conjured by the ending are sweeping and poignant.
    This is the result of Caine’s powerful performance of a quietly regretful man and the revelations of his past that come to light at the film’s end.

    “Youth’s” ending culminates in a charged finale of opera and montage that leveled me with its emotion and execution.
    Although the parts of “Youth” don’t always add up, the film builds to an ending that might make it all worth it.

    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter

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