(*T.C.O.B. reviews Paolo Sorrentino's latest film.)
Actually, I'm about to write a hugely laudatory review. Though I don't know if it will appear in time to persuade more people to see the film in question. It's even possible that the film is already off the circuit, no, I won't interrupt myself to check it up on internet. But I've said it before: a Craft Opinion can't be rushed. At T.C.O.B. we write about the things that interest us, when they interest us. If our readers are able to take something from our reflections, methods and principles and use it in evolving their own tastes, so much the better. Besides there's always DVD rental.
I delayed writing this review partly because of a line in the film itself. It belongs to a character called Jonny Tree, a Hollywood film star played by Paul Dano. He says, "It's up to each of us to choose whether we want to depict the senselessness of horror or the beauty of desire". He's just decided that he cannot play the part of Hitler in a forthcoming film. At the time I saw this, T.C.O.B. was intensively occupied with the theme of horror in films like Salo and Apocalypse Now (see the 12th and (13th instalments). I thought it would be useful to bring my reflections to some kind of a conclusion before turning my attention to Jonny Tree's point of view.
Well, now I can't help finding it a little trite. Horror ought not to be dismissed as senseless. At the very least it has a human sense. As for desire, is it necessarily beautiful? Jonny Tree, who comes across, rather successfully, as a philosopher-hipster, seems suddenly to be taking his lines from Miss Universe. It's a shame, too, that he wants to abjure his role as Hitler. In another part of the film he masquerades as the infamous dictator in front of fellow guests at an Alpine hotel. The messianic gaze he assumes is an intriguing interpretation: a man utterly detached from the reality of whatever (horror) he is responsible for. At breakfast he sits alone at a table set for twelve. While eating his fruit he has a fit of coughing, and in his attempt to bring his human avatar under control again he strikes the table, sending a minor shockwave through the rarefied atmosphere of the dining room. It's a moment of pure black humour.
Sorrentino does make up, however. I mentioned Miss Universe. She's played by Madalina Diana Ghenea and makes two appearances in Youth, once in an outsized woollen jumper, once completely unclothed. I know that full nudity counts for little these days. But in this case I'm not just talking about shots of breasts with dark, prominent nipples, a luscious pubic mound and fleshy buttocks. When a director knows, as Sorrentino does, how to craft beautiful pictures, he unveils the enigmatic union of languor and potency. In this way, the female body arouses the discomforting conflict between lust and admiration, or the enigma of male desire, which can only truly be resolved by love.
Miss Universe besides, Youth is a cornucopia of beautiful pictures. Following a tradition that goes back to Pasolini, Fellini and beyond to masters of the Renaissance, Sorrentino frames landscape (Swiss Alps in spring), architecture (Hotel Schatzalp, Piazza San Marco), fashion (Armani, Bulgari) and humanity (young and old) in exquisite proportions. In the humanity aspect he is supported by the wonderful performances of a wonderful cast. There's Rachel Weisz - not unclothed but stunning nonetheless. She also makes herself look childishly vulnerable when her character's husband abandons her for another woman. Later on she glows with the white-anger of an adolescent as she vents at her father for his infidelities toward her mother.
Weisz' performance is an epitome of a film that deploys many shades of emotion. Youth is trite, cynical, dramatic, wickedly humorous, lascivious. I was caught by surprise, not to mention embarrassed slightly a few times. But it's all filmed so masterfully, moving from one emotion to the other and back and forth between the perceptible world and internal realm of the characters' desires with such exquisite poise that it would be inhuman not to abandon oneself to its ebb and flow. "Emotions aren't overrated", says Mick Boyle, one of the film's characters. "They're all we've got." In a magnificent interpretation of this septuagenarian screenwriter, Harvey Keitel unites tenderness and irony, wisdom and passion, humour and despair.
Diego Maradona is also in the film. I admit I was fooled into thinking it was really him. There were the thick black curls, the tattoo of Karl Marx spread over his back, the greying beard and the weight problem. I later found out he was played by an actor going by the improbable name of Roly Serrano - at least according to Wikipedia. Anyway, he and his daughter, who would invariably be hurrying after him, with an oxygen tank, constitute another epitome. Youth, for all its emotional ebb and flow and variation of perspective, keeps reminding the viewer of the inseparability of young and old: how one clings to the other for its experience, how one supports itself on the other's vigour, how human desire sustains itself on the interdependence of experience and vigour.
Of course, there's also conflict between young and old - sometimes with tragic consequences. But Sorrentino's Youth has a happy ending so I'll not dwell on these. Rather, I'll close by describing my favourite scene. Michael Caine in the role of Fred Ballinger, a retired musician, sits on a tree stump on a hillside meadow and conducts a pastoral impromptu. The musicians are a herd of Swiss cows jangling their bells and lowing and a flock of birds that whooshes into a pristine blue sky when the maestro raises his arms to signal the conclusion. So beautiful, so uplifting. Whatever your age, it will make you want to fall in love again.
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