Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Atop the Swiss alps, where the wind gently blows through breathtaking vistas, lies an elitist mountain resort housing celebrities from all walks of life. As these men and women of varying degrees of fame interact, each takes a minute to ponder, the mountain a vantage point from which to glean new information about their lives as they reflect on the past that now seems a millennia away. They remain in constant observance of the hotel guests younger than themselves. Following his Oscar win for THE GREAT BEAUTY, Paolo Sorrentino has crafted YOUTH, an introspective piece on how, after the arthritis becomes too much to bear and the voices of one’s parents can no longer be recalled, one begins to evaluate the life he or she could have lived.
The popularity of waterboarding has skyrocketed in Switzerland
Effortlessly poignant, Sorrentino directs his lens towards a facet of highbrow culture that would traditionally feel hedonistic in its bourgeois iconography. Yet somehow YOUTH never succumbs to these potential pitfalls thanks to Sorrentino’s graceful balance of his charming leads and their awareness of the lavish decadence of the other hotel patrons. Caine’s complete dismissal of elderly people bumping into each others’ wheelchairs in hotel hallways marks a clear demarcation of what Caine and Keitel decide to pay attention to. When a teenager doing a wheelie on his bicycle, a Miss Universe contestant, and two 60 year-olds making love in the woods grab the protagonists attention, the viewer begins to learn that Sorrentino’s leads are fascinated by a broader definition of youth; the ability to live a life that Caine and Keitel no longer can.
Furthermore, this thematic core is explored through Sorrentino’s milieu, a lavish spa resort situated high on the mountain tops, modern architecture clashing with breathtaking nature like the gods of Mount Olympus, blurring the line between life and death in this hotel purgatory through their constant discussion of youth and mortality. Although these two extremes contrast aesthetically, they find a visual synchronicity in hotel swimming pools and the juxtaposition of a rock climbing wall inside of a building adjacent to an actual mountain, causing nature to encroach into these synthetic spaces. In doing so, this sterile environment begins to breathe vivid imagery, flattening camera composition to hearken back to classical paintings, best explored during the film’s opening featuring hotel guests sitting motionless inside of the hotel sauna.
Keitel’s rider stipulates his penis always has to be uncovered
Propelled by a willful absence of an external conflict, YOUTH is a film that treats its characters as the absolute centerpiece of its thematic language. Although there isn’t any dramatic urgency when watching the multiple plot threads move from A to B, the viewer is constantly transfixed by the character’s sharp rhetoric and bountiful wisdom. The fact that no greater conflict binds the experiences of the hotel guests is Sorrentino’s successful attempt to shape the lingering feeling of the hotel’s aura of relaxation. As protagonists Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine humorously wax philosophical, they try to lecture the young and pass on the last bit of wisdom they have before leaving this earth. But as they soon discover, even they have quite a bit to learn about their lives before they end.
“Well spotted, champion”
What’s important to note is that when each individual is in quiet observance of another hotel guest, it is always someone younger than themselves, regardless if it’s Caine’s interactions with a young violinist or a bearded mountaineer eyeing Caine’s lonely daughter. As each character spies another, they see some part of themselves in their younger counterpart, whether it’s a love they once felt or a person they could have been. This is further explored in Sorrentino’s analysis of memory, and how time causes younger generations to find a disillusionment in the history that they weren’t there to live themselves, expertly portrayed by Paul Dano when he blissfully plays dress-up as Adolf Hitler and is ogled by the countless 70 year old’s in the hotel restaurant.
YOUTH is about memory, love, death and beauty, everything that comes and goes with the film’s title. It’s breathtaking in its nuance and maintains a poetic touch that never extends into self-indulgence due to fresh performances and perfect comedic timing. Although many will notice Caine and Fonda as big personalities on screen, Keitel ends up stealing the show in one of the most naturalistic performances in years, completely devoid of the theatrical quirks that would cause his character to feel like a performance gunning for awards season attention. Fresh, beautiful, and photographed with stunning detail, YOUTH is one of the most poignant films in years, and an absolute masterpiece of contemporary cinema.