In this latest addition to his opus since the award winning The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino gives us a stronger film (and another nomination), but with an arguably smaller audience appeal. Youth is a wonderful musing on life and art. It has echos of Fellini’s 8 1/2 throughout and even the odd Kurosawa film in its landscape shots. While there is material for younger audiences, I suspect they receive it more as a lecture than a conversation. It is very much from the point of view of the two main characters who are at the edge of their lives, personally and creatively.
Michael Cain (Last Witch Hunter) and Harvey Keitel (The Congress) are our main tour guides through the vacation resort that serves as the primary set. Rachel Weisz (Oz the Great and Powerful), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Alex Macqueen (Cinderella), Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie), and Ed Stoppard (Politician’s Husband) join the conversation with varying degrees of importance, but all with engaging characters. Weisz, in particular, serves as a young wedge and external point of view for the older stars.
This is a very particular kind of non-story. While it is a character study with a lot of philosophizing, it does have a plot of sorts. That plot is one you have to put together on your own, and the main point of the film is definitely layered on top of the action rather than specifically part of it. Up till the last frames it is Sorrentino who is providing commentary on what you’re seeing, based on the visual language he builds throughout the film.
Youth is a story best experienced rather than approached. Sit back and allow it to take you away for a couple hours. There are enough scenes that will make it worth the trip, regardless of whether it ultimately speaks to or gels for you. The cinematography is glorious and the humor wryly wonderful. The message… well, I suspect that you’ll have to decide for yourself both what it was and what it means. And I don’t think that would upset Sorrentino in the least.