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Cannes 2015: Youth Review - Michael Caine Blows The Bloody Doors Off

A funny, poignant film destined to live long after the festival.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜…˜… Youth is a film ostensibly about two old men dealing with their legacy in the face of the emergent spectre of death, but don't let that fool you into thinking the title is just some ironic contrasting. Paolo Sorrentino draws direct parallels between the beginning and end of life - two times of pure freedom with an indefinite end - leading to a film that winds up being as much about living as it does dying. It would make a wonderful companion piece to Inside Out. Several ideas, predominantly the malleability of memory, are shared, and a discussion about the irrelevance of emotions feels like a natural continuation of the points raised by Joy and Sadness. Also like Pixar's latest, the film uses prevalent humour to deepen the characters and heighten the underlying pathos. It's an approach we've seen an awful lot of in recent years (particularly under the Fox Searchlight Pictures banner, who have recently secured distribution for the film), but few manage it with such poignancy and justification (one character comments that life needs levity) as Sorrentino. The Italian auteur has become a powerhouse, winning the Best Foreign Language Oscar for his previous, The Great Beauty, and here delviers another Cannes hit that could wind up in a similar (although, with the lack of subtitles, bigger) ballpark. The set up is simple, and not as pervy as the marketing would suggest. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are living the summer season in a Swiss hotel; Fred Ballinger, a famed conductor (Caine), is relaxing into his retirement, putting his storied past behind him, while Mick, a long-standing arthouse director (Keitel), is trying to crack the script for his latest film, which he intendeds to be his testament work. Around them are Paul Dano's striving actor, Rachel Weisz as Caine's daughter, recently separated from Keitel's son, the current Miss Universe and a plethora of silent, often naked extras (which allows for moments heavily reminiscent of Italian art). The duo have been friends for sixty years, and thus appear outwardly like they're equals; both suffer from prostate problems, have invariably lost their wives and their children are even married to each other. And yet their approach to ageing is intrinsically different - Mick is all about legacy, but Fred wants nothing more than the requests for a memoir and a special performance for the Queen to go away. The pair never discuss these internal problems, keeping any exchange light by cracking wise about their age and making bets on the hotel's other inhabitants. It's viewed by many onlookers as an odd friendship, but it's clear from the effect of their interactions that each is serving as an emotional crutch for the other; they subconsciously keep each other happy, meaning that it's only when alone that their full frailty is bared. Both actors (and the greater cast) are deserving of praise, always genuine even in the moments of levity, but it's Caine who really shines with a performance so well measured he'll be at the front of everyone's minds come awards season. In recent years Sir Michael's unwittingly become something of a joke, his distinct delivery and quotable body of work leaving everybody thinking it's their god-given right to do a shaky impression whenever his name comes up. He's all too often fallen back on this, but here he really stretches himself; Fred has the actor's now-typical stoicism as default, but adjusts it majorly depending on the context - when with Keitel he's jovial and when alone broken. The intricacies of his past are revealed in a lengthy monologue from Weisz (a close-up all in one take), but even after learning of his fallibilities (and there is more kept for a later reveal) you're immediately onside with the maestro. Sorrentino uses the idyllic, contextually unencumbered Swiss Alps backdrop to great effect. It's a serene setting complete with heat haze that sells a sense of slowed-down relaxation. The film also puts great care into its framing, putting a shot's subject in the direct centre of the frame, often accentuated with naturally occurring symmetry, which is readable as a visual representation of life, with youth and old age mirrors of each other. This is all added to by the characters who populate the hotel. There's so many minor threads that it's impossible (and rather spoilerific) to list them all, but thematically noteworthy cases include Dano's thirty-something having an epiphany ahead of his years and Weisz making a major anti-ageist development. Fittingly, however, the characters who have the most unconditional respect are children; a little girl is the only person to recognise Dano from a little-seen drama and not his high profile robot role, while a young boy understand's Fred's composing and actually thanks him for some musical help. Youth is, ultimately, Michael Caine's testament. He reaffirms his versatility as an actor and, in tackling an issue that can't help but be near the forefront of his mind, delivers something evocatively raw. Keep up with all of our Cannes 2015 coverage on the official page here.

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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.