YOUTH (2015)

December 17, 2015

youth Greetings again from the darkness. With a Best Foreign Language Oscar for his previous film The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza), expectations were sky high for this one from writer/director Paolo Sorrentino. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi is also back and the two create yet another artistic entrée that is a visual extravaganza, worthy of the admission price even if no dialogue existed. Combine the visual artistry with a commentary on age and emotions, and the result is a film that will either enchant or stultify … with probably no middle ground.

Michael Caine stars as Fred Ballinger, a renowned Orchestra conductor, who is vacationing at a stunning Swiss Alps spa with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his long-time best friend, screenwriter Mick Boyd (Harvey Keitel). Fred, a self-professed retiree, is being pursued by Queen Elizabeth’s representative to perform one last concert. Fred is adamant in his refusal … for personal reasons we later learn are due to his nostalgic belief that his wife (no longer able to sing) is the only one who will sing his “simple” songs as long as he is alive. In the meantime, Mick is working with a group of ambitious young writers in an attempt to leave a legacy with his most important film ever. So you can already see that both men are working through their golden years in different ways.

Lena is devastated when her husband dumps her for a young pop singer (played by the real pop singer, Paloma Faith). Oh, one other detail … Lena’s husband is also Mick’s son (Ed Stoppard). This makes for some awkward (but entertaining) moments, and also leads to one of the film’s best scenes – Lena spilling her emotional guts to Fred while they are both covered in a mud bath. Director Sorrentino is a master at twisting these poignant moments with dashes of levity or irony. Another example is when Miss Universe (Romanian model Madalina Diana Ghenea) puts a condescending movie actor (Paul Dano) in his place with a devastating shift in tone and a comeback for the ages.

Sorrentino executes a couple of bizarre dream or fantasy sequences – one with Fred conducting a cow pasture (replete with cows and other bits of nature), and another with Mick being haunted in a meadow by all the female stars from his films (each in costume of their character). Suffice to say, this is not a conventional look at aging. What’s also clear is that Sorrentino believes our emotions drive our actions. The most jarring example is the aftermath when Mick’s long-time leading lady Brenda Morel (played by Jane Fonda) declines to appear in his latest film.

Even the most bizarre segments are presented with a visual artistry that forces our brains to process overtime. How about an obese Diego Maradona (played by Roly Serrano) repeatedly kicking tennis balls into the air? Or big time actor Jimmy Tree (Dano) struggling with his decision to sellout by appearing in a popular robot movie instead of pursuing his desire to be taken seriously as an actor? Or Lena bouncing back with a socially awkward mountain man? Or the seemingly minor role of a young masseuse (played by Luna Zimic Mijovic) who has us yearning for more? In addition to how each of these segments is startling to look at, Jane Fonda’s role has so many nuances that an entire movie could be made about her.

As with The Great Beauty, the film will have the most profound impact on those of us old enough to be looking through the binoculars and noticing how far away the past looks … and wondering just how long until “Life’s Last Day”.

watch the trailer:



THE GREAT BEAUTY (La grande bellezza, Italy, 2013)

December 15, 2013

beauty1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is Italy’s submission to the Academy for Best Foreign Film of 2013. If it wasn’t such a beautiful film to watch, a fun game of spot the Italian director influence could be played. Director Paolo Sorrentino owes much to Fellini and La dolce vita, but this is more than a tribute. Sorrentino shows great style and insight, and his commitment to camera angles, movement, colors, textures and faces are quite something to behold.

Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardella, a man celebrating his 65th birthday by doing what he does most every night … beauty3partying with his group of intellectual friends. Jep had a successful novel published in his 20’s and has since worked sporadically as a journalist, but has never again focused on his writing. One can’t help but notice the similarities to Marcello Mastroianni in La dolce vita, but Jep is jolted with news that sends him flashing back to his younger years and his one true love.  Especially satisfying are the numerous shots of what makes Rome such an enchanting city.  The historical sites and beautiful sculptures and fountains provide quite the contrast to the startling appearance of the party goers.

beauty2 Much of the story includes Roman decadence, and it can easily be viewed as the decline of Roman civilization both past and present. See, Jep’s apartment overlooks the famous ruins of The Colosseum. Even moreso, we get a nice conflict between uppity society and the all too important modern and conceptual art crowd. Toss in a few pot shots at the Vatican and Sorrentino seems to be telling us that everyone takes themselves entirely too seriously … even as we belittle and judge others. Whatever his true message, the sensory overload provided here could be a film class in camera style and is quite fun to watch.

watch the trailer: