Youth/ La Giovinezza (2015)

Paolo Sorrentino returns to shining a light on the poor rich souls dangling precariously from the top of Maslow’s Pyramid; chronicling the beautiful paradox of questioning, from the top of the greasy pole of worldly success and talent, if this is truly all there is to life and, more importantly, if it is enough to keep you going.
While La Grande Bellezza seductively examined lingering emptiness in the midst of purely aesthetic lifestyle, Youth pushes the question one level deeper, asking about the very point of existence (admittedly for sensitive types in the middle of depression), and bravely venturing to provide a tentative answer. With such a hefty ambition, Youth is less a dramatic film than an essay: characters are heightened and stylised – uttering, not speaking; gesturing, not moving.
This, predictably, means that Fred (Caine) and Nick (Keitel), the geriatric duo at the heart of the film, are not fully relatable, but rather personifications of two approaches to old age: the former lifeless after the loss of his wife, the latter seemingly cheerily plowing on in making his chef d’ouvre on the last days of life. While lounging about in Schatzalp hotel in Davos (which also housed the characters of Der Zauberberg) and trying to see the point of going on, they come into contact with a characters at various levels of stuck-ness in life: a jaundiced actor healing the wounds to his ego brought about by commercial success (Dano), Fred’s somewhat estranged daughter (Weisz) dealing with being dumped by Nick’s son for Paloma Faith, as well as Maradona-style footballer who let himself go rather badly. Even Miss Universe (Ghenea) whose curves grace the film’s poster, provides very insightful philosophical musings.
Even though all this may sound like Youth is almost two hours of pretentious metaphysical masturbation, the film is saved by the fact that unlike many auteurs, Sorrentino does provide enough twists, playfulness and honesty to make it touching, human and very deep. Although no character reaches the iconic heights of Servillo’s Jep Gambardella, all of them are expertly crafted by the cast, with Caine, Dano and Weisz standing out somewhat. And finally, Luca Bigazzi, the director of photography, shots each scene luminously, underscoring film’s celebration of life and living at various ages.
All of this is to say if you go to cinema for films, pure and simple, it offers enough bravura performances and cinematic masterstrokes to keep you fascinated. However, if you want to see a philosophical investigation of life and art (and their conflicts) at the age when they are both fading, Youth dazzles. So what does Sorrentino see from his artistic heights: is this all there is? Apparently so. And maybe all the passion we can feel is more than plenty.

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