Austin Film Fest 2015: Riveting “Youth” explores life

Maybe it’s due to my habit of avoiding anything serious in life, but it’s been a long time since a film has left me with such a heavy feeling of despair. While I am concerned that I haven’t managed to completely shake off that feeling, “Youth” is one of the most brilliant and emotionally riveting comedy-dramas I’ve seen in a very long time.

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in "Youth" / Photo courtesy of youtube.com
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in “Youth” / Photo courtesy of youtube.com

“Youth,” directed by Paolo Sorrentino, stars Michael Caine as Fred, a retired world class maestro who wants nothing more than to spend his vacation at a luxurious spa in the Swiss Alps and close himself off to his past. Even a request from the Queen of England herself to perform one of his famous symphonies for Prince Albert with the promise of knighthood won’t get him to come out of retirement and relive his glory days.

Fred spends most of his time with famous American screenwriter Mick (Harvey Keitel), an old friend who is working on the script for his last great film with a group of young writers. The banter between the two is always hilarious whether they are debating whether Mick slept with a girl they both liked in their youth or they’re maliciously updating each other on their prostate issues. This relaxing vacation is interrupted when Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) comes to him in tears after her husband abruptly leaves her for a pop star. This event leads to insights on Fred’s lack of emotional attachment to anything but music, his treatment of his wife, and his regrets about the past.

"Youth" / Photo courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
“Youth” / Photo courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

This film explores life when your best days may be behind you. This notion is not just preserved for the elderly characters, but also for an actor (Paul Dano) who can’t seem to live down his one iconic role or a once world-famous soccer player whose good health and athletic body are now gone. The human approach to this dilemma gives the film its ability to balance its many hilarious moments with absolutely gut-wrenching moments that make me fear for the day when my glory days are long gone.

Visually, this film is absolutely intoxicating. It is unbelievable how much feeling Sorrentino can tell the viewer in a single still frame. Each scene is lush and full of a kind of elegance that is difficult to find in modern films. The use of fantasy, as well in the visuals, during the dreams and fantasies of the characters is beautifully offbeat. One of my favorite fantasy scenes is of Fred conducting a symphony in his mind using the ambient sounds from a cow field near the spa.

This movie’s biggest fault is its treatment of women. Women’s bodies are often used to express the meaning of youth, which leads to lavish and unnecessary displays of female nudity. I am also disappointed with where Lena ends up at the end of the film. The ending to her storyline is very boring and typical of female characters. She is a genuinely interesting character and one of the most poignant moments in the film is her verbal takedown of her father’s mistreatment of her mother. It was just disappointing for me to see a great character and actress be reduced to that.

Overall, “Youth” is a must-see for anyone who is looking a for a fantastic comedy-drama or simply looking for a film that will genuinely make them feel something. To put in simply, it’s a beautiful, well-acted and meaningful film.

“Youth” opens in theaters on Dec. 4 in the U.S.

Leave a Reply