Youth is director Paolo Sorrentino’s follow up to his Oscar winning 2013 film The Great Beauty. It’s a thoughtful, and moving one about life reflection, and how you’re never too old to discover anything new about yourself.

When we are introduced to the main character Fred Ballinger (a never better Michael Caine) a retired orchestra conductor he is vacationing in a beautiful hotel in the Swiss Alps. Fred is a world famous conductor, but has turned apathetic in his old age. He turns down an invitation for Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Phillips birthday upon his introduction sitting on the hotel’s gardens in the opening scene. He has no intention of resuming his music career, and refuses to budge even for royalty.

The trip has been arranged by his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), and he uses the stay to catch up with his old friend Mick (Harvey Keitel). Lena who works for her father as his assistant still has some open wounds from a messy past with her father, but she still loves him dearly. Lena has always taken a backseat in her father’s life due to his devote commitment to his music. His friend Mick is a famous film director –think an aging John Cassavetes type- who is working on a new screenplay. Mick hopes it will spring a comeback for himself in his old age.

The setting in the chic Swiss hotel provides for a memorable set piece for the characters to reflect on their old age, and life lived. Both characters are going into their early eighties as artists, and kind of mirrors each other in where they have found themselves with their craft. Fred wants to leave his artistic endeavors behind him, while Mick can’t quite let go of them.

Sorrentino’s film has a very eurocentric sensibility. It’s no wonder why this director is compared with Fredrico Fellini so much, because like The Great Beauty this film feels like an explosion of art. There’s an uncontrollable sense of drama within film, and it’s hard not to get swept up by it. Sorrentino fills every bit of Youth with life, especially with seemly minor background characters. Background players like a twenty-year-old masseuse, a prostitute who works out of the hotel, and an aging soccer player all weave in and out of the story.

Each is an interesting device used in the story by almost saying that there’s isn’t a character too big or small in the grand scope of things. All of them are almost the main characters in their own separate movie going on within the story. Music is also an important element in the storytelling here. Besides the fact that Michael Caine’s character is a composer you see various musicians in the hotel perform songs almost in their entirety. The end result is some of the most moving cinematic experiences of the year.


It would be a crime to mention the brief appearance by Jane Fonda who plays a veteran actress whom Mick is partly responsible for giving her foot in the door into Hollywood. After staring in eleven of his past pictures Mick wants her to accept a role in the project he’s working on during his stay. The meeting between Fonda and Keitel almost plays out like a short film, and it certainly is a memorable one. With a big blonde wig, and caked on makeup the look of Fonda’s character of Brenda looks as if she stepped out of an art house film from Europe. Fonda looks like she’s having fun with the material, and you can’t help but draw comparisons with the actress in real life with the role she’s playing. It could be a wild card for the best supporting actress Oscar race this year.

It will be hard not to walk away from Youth, and not be moved. While at times it may be vague in its storytelling it’s a movie that really knows how to live in the moment. Mick tells Fred near the end of the film that, “Emotions are all that we have.”, and that wonderfully captures what’s going on within every character in the film. It’s a unique movie that is one not to be missed for anyone who loves great cinema.