Youth gives us love and roses, age leaves us friends and wine.
Youth is not necessarily a time of life, but a state of mind; attitude matters, especially when you are a retired Septuagenarian like British Conductor Fred Ballinger.
Full of melancholy Fred Ballinger, for whom each day staying at a spa hotel in Switzerland is much like the next, quietly observes the morning wellbeing routines performed by all the people who line up like robots to perform in a ritual meant to aid their wellbeing.
After that he enjoys to walk to his favourite meadow full of cows, where he alone can imagine the music their large bells make in his mind and bring them all together to make a beautiful melody.
Written and directed by renowned Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino Pathe films Youth features major award winning actors Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano in a mature movie that is a meditation on both life and art.
Youth premiered in Australia at the British Film Festival opening night, 2015.
Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) now retired spends time reflecting on the art of his own life to date.
He is able to do this with his best friend filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) along with an assortment of amazing characters, including the latest Miss Universe.
Caine with his ‘English reserve’ intact is so different from his own wild Alfie styled ‘youth’, delivers his lines in delightful musical phrases.
Keitel provides a more practical approach; the brash American who seems to know his own worth, espoused through powerful words.
They are wonderful together.
While Fred is happy to just go with the flow of his retired life, Mick is still looking out into the future and what lays beyond.
Fred until now has moved through life without drinking too much from its over brimming cup of many other experiences.
They lie outside his own sphere, where staying his course, music has always helped him to simplify everything, even a song.
Mick is at the Hotel in residence with a youthful group of collaborators, played by Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Alex Beckett, Nate Dern and Mark Gessner.
They are endeavouring to help him to finish the script for his final movie, which is intended to be a testament to both his life and work.
On this annual holiday in the Alps Fred, thanks to his assistant’s careful planning, is enjoying mud baths, massages and floating in pools of reflection, sometimes with Mick.
They both admire a woman’s body for its beauty, especially when it belongs to the latest Miss Universe, who is stepping naked into their bath.
One morning Fred receives an invitation from HM Queen Elizabeth II’s emissary to perform in London for her consort Prince Phillip on his birthday.
He turns down the offer, citing personal reasons, observed by his daughter Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) who is also his assistant and is married to Mick’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard).
Lena is in an emotionally fragile state. Her marriage to Julian falling apart.
This one act of her father’s endears him to her, despite venting her anger about how he left her and her mother alone when she was growing up.
Julian has decided he is leaving with Paloma Faith, the singer providing a weird caricature, especially singing ‘Can’t Rely On You’
Each day Mick and Fred share intimate and poignant details about the new challenges they both face at a time in life when just getting out of bed and dressed each morning becomes a dramatic performance of its own.
It is a delightful banter, whereby we discover that both of them wanted to bed the same girl when they were young, and while each thought the other had succeeded. In reality they now in later life discover neither had enjoyed her favours.
Cinematically spectacular to look at, Youth was filmed on location inn the Swiss Alps at the five star luxe mountain resort and spa devoted to well being Waldhaus Flims. Founded in 1869, it has grown exponentially ever since.
Getting in on with some of the action is Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), whose role is perhaps one of the most endearing. He plays a mid 30’s actor who has been defined by just one role to date, that of a robot where his face is hidden.
Believing that is an insult, he is longing to find someone who will appreciate the remainder of his body of work to date. He’s staying at Fred’s favourite hotel (he’s been coming there for twenty years) to research for an upcoming role.
Jimmy certainly surprises everyone one morning by turning up for breakfast in full character, one at which they and we can only look at in amazement.
In between times Jimmy and Fred carry on delightful conversations together as they often sit in silence together yearning for whatever lies beyond the boundaries they have inflicted upon themselves.
As a witty observer of life Jimmy proves himself at times, a consummate conveyor of wisdom.
There is also considerable added quirky interest with vignette scenes of yet more naked people in saunas, the inevitable levitating Buddhist Monk and Fred’s masseuse (Luna Mijovic) is caught often in cameo performing her own daily rituals of Tai Chi.
A particularly sad figure in the once famous ageing obese tattooed Argentinian football player Diego Maradona, whose best days are now far behind him, although many in the world still remember his face.
His presence perhaps ensures that we ponder that becoming wise is really all about knowing that in the great scheme of things, and all there is to know, we really know nothing at all
Lena also has a diversion of her own happening with the hotel’s wooden faced ‘mountaineer’ instructor, who offers to give her lessons in more than just climbing.
Like the ill wind that blows no good that in reality brings destruction, the ageing Hollywood star Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) like a monster from the black lagoon sweeps into their presence, giving Mick the cold shoulder and a frigid shower about his pretentiousness.
She loves to deride others, but not happy about looking deep into the mirror of her own soul. Momentarily she works her poison, which while it has an immediate and violent impact, will more than likely rebound and have a long lasting effect on the rest of her own life.
Opera singer Sumi Jo, often called the ‘voice of heaven’ provides us with a music that resonates experience, because at the end and back in London, Fred finally relents to conducts the orchestra performing and her singing in spine tingling style his’ simple songs.
In the audience is his new best friend Jimmy, because Mick who longed for more in life has quietly but nonetheless dramatically exited stage left by leaping off the balcony at the Hotel, orchestrating his own end.
In Youth, Director writer Paolo Sorrentino makes us voyeurs as he conveys his grand statements about life through fabulous fragments, which are continually crafted with both wit and sensitivity.
Looking back and looking forward, he has crafted a movie of sheer visual pleasure that makes us long to break free from the boundaries we impose upon ourselves.
It’s all about paternal love and warmth, the magic of music and, the wonder of beauty in all its forms.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015