Tuesday, December 22, 2015

With European Film Awards winner, YOUTH, Paolo Sorrentino offers up another amazement

A master class in filmmaking, from a visual standpoint, certainly, YOUTH is... what? Paolo Sorrentino's best yet? Don't we say that nearly every time a new movie appears from this guy? Why not? In my estimation, he is among and perhaps the finest living filmmaker, even if his movies are, yes, all over the place. But what he lacks as a screenwriter, he more than makes up for as a director. As a writer, he seems to cajole, even fondle, his screenplays into providing the kind of imaginative, rich, one-of-a-kind visuals in which so many of us art-movie fans exult.

Sorrentino's stories fascinate, as well: tales told to make their themes resonate -- even if sometimes not as strongly or in as condensed a fashion as we might like. And yet, post viewing -- and I have seen most of his movies more than once -- I find myself enjoying and learning from them even more. With Youth, the filmmaker (shown on set, at left) has made a movie about -- among other things -- age, art, love, family, moviemaking, creativity and commerce -- and he's wrapped all this into a near-constant array of stunning color, composi-tion and juxtaposition.

Take the poster image, shown at top, as one instance. This is from one of the film's most ravishing scenes, in which youth and age are juxtaposed to marvelous effect in a lush, deep and dark several moments that brings to the by-now tiresome "dream sequence" something unique -- and visually beyond compare. (The cinematographer here is the great Luca Bigazzi.)

The story is one of two old friends -- a retired composer/conductor (played by Michael Caine, above) in his consistent and increasingly elegant less-is-more mode) and a filmmaker (Harvey Keitel, below) working on what may be his final opus. The two spar (often about a girl they once knew), enjoy each other and their surroundings (a first-class hotel high in the Swiss mountainside) and try to work through their various family problems (the Caine character's daughter is married to the Keitel character's son).

Further complications arise when the maestro is contacted by a very high-level personage and asked to come (briefly) out of his retirement while, simultaneously, the filmmaker finds himself having trouble finishing his screenplay worked on (in the Italian style) by a bevy of screenwriters (shown below).

Along the way, much is made of the composer/conductor's series of songs that have proven his most acclaimed and popular work. Much is also made of a certain leading actress, who is to be the star of the filmmaker's new work. We hear about both of these over and over again, from different angles and various other characters. This is quite a build-up. Many filmmakers would be content to leave it at that (or fearful not to, and then have to make good on their inflated claims). Not so Sorrentino.

When we meet at last that famous star, as played by Jane Fonda (above and below) in a role that requires not merely terrific acting but a near-complete abandonment of the usual "star" vanity, Ms Fonda more than delivers the goods.

Likewise, the movie's finale, when, at last, we approach the moment when we're about to hear that famous and much bandied-about music. We expect, of course, a cut to black, as the movie ends, letting instead our fertile imaginations provide the celestial music. Oh, no. Sorrentino, together with his composer David Lang, provide an ending so glorious, aurally and visually, that it brings this 124-minute movie to a grand close.

In the youth department of Youth are Rachel Weisz (above) as Caine's daughter, and Paul Dano (below, right) as a famous young actor researching some background material for his latest role. Both are fine, especially Mr. Dano, but they take an understandable and expected back seat to their elders here.

In set piece after set piece, Sorrentino provides great beauty (to crib from the title of his previous film), as well as fine irony and ideas to chew over at some later time -- maybe when you watch the film again. One of the things I liked best about Youth, in retrospect, is how it makes rather joyful and endearing fun at movie-making and movie-makers.

God knows that Sorrentino takes his art and craft seriously. Yet he also, I believe, understands that, hey, it's just a movie. But since it is a movie, why not make of it every glorious thing we can?

Youth, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, while continuing its run in New York and Los Angeles, opens around the country Friday, December 25 (what a Christmas present for film-goers!), Here in Southern Florida it will play in West Palm Beach, Naples, Delray Beach, Hollywood, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  Click here then enter your location to find a nearby playdate.

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