YOUTH Review - Genuinely Moving, a Soul Stirring Journey of Beauty, Folly, Regret, Love

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YOUTH, from FOX Searchlight Pictures, brings to the screen a beautiful ensemble performance on life, desire, passion, need and the one certainty that life, however well planned, is often best lived when enjoying the unpredictable.  

Directed and written by Paolo Sorentino, YOUTH stars Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano with Madalina Diana Ghenea, Ed Stoppard, Alex Macqueen, Sumi Jo, Paloma Faith, Gabriella Belisario, Roly Serrano, also Chloe Pirrie, Alex Beckett, Nate Dern and Mark Gessner and Leo Artin Boschin.

YOUTH begins with Maestro Fred Ballinger, played by Michael Caine, having a rather unusual conversation with the emissary of the Queen of England, delightfully played by Alex Macqueen. It seems the Maestro, at a quant time in his life created for love and the gentle words, the light uncomplicated music, became the simple songs that have remained with the intensity of a passionate lover and the presumption of a stalker.

For a season they were delightful, special and filled with memorable moments. Now, only bittersweet memories are intertwined in each verse. His life and love, simpler at the scoring, allowed for levity and it has haunted him since.

Ballinger listens politely and stubbornly refuses. YOUTH, set at a solarium style spa, a healthy retreat for the rich and famous or those hoping to get their Zen back before they begin projects or delve deep into the soul to entertain the world with poetry of the heart.

A resort surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps, the two men, Harvey Keitel who plays film legend Director Mick Boyle, and Ballinger, life friends, meet annually at this retreat and like the paint peeling on the walls, or normal wear and tear, the two have grown older each year as life dealt them both blows, moments that take your breath away still they return, rejuvenate, and re-enter.

The mountains, as a production design, are stunning, towering, allowing for the continual analogy of man’s greatest achievements, of which our two accomplished leads,  Ballinger and  Boyle, towering pinnacles dominate, at one time, in their respective careers are often seen in the backdrop of and can never reach the height of the creation of nature.

The evening’s at this spa are usually gathered around the entertainment supplied by the hotel, which is where we find our legendary Maestro and American actor Jimmy Tree, played with delicate subtly by Paul Dano.

The two have a meaningful exchange on the simplicities of pervious work and how the depth of the work created across a lifetime can at times be reduced to a single moment of levity. Then, with the warm glow from the fire pit and one can imagine taking the chill off the evening, an acoustic guitar plays.

For me, my soul was stirred at this scene, it was as if the cords, the artistic expression, created a purity, that touched my soul. I began to cry.

Anyway, the film is filled with the daily reasons for the journey to the Alps, to write, to prepare, the rest to exercise, to rediscover, to dream, to rejuvenate, to conquer.

The imposing, majestic views, which add two separate, and contrasting, elements to the scenes, it was as if each vignette of every person or couple at the spa, had their own strong backstory, as big as the mountains.

Throughout the film Boyle reminisces, with his writing team, of his once muse, Brenda Morel, the legendary talent who is known for doing things her way.

Jane Fonda plays the aging actress Brenda Morel, once the muse to Boyle’s creative vision. He launched her career, and eleven pictures later a rift, time, simple economics, the two drifted and now, with this one final picture on his mind, a lead that any actress her age would die for she shows up, a curvaceous platinum blonde diva with attitude.

The tables have turned between these two. Boyle, once the stronger player, is now dependent on Morel and she knows it. The strength of the scene is a strong as the dynamics between the two. There can’t be two acting lions ready without experiencing the fierceness.   

Ballinger, is faced with his own issues as his daughter, Lena, played by Rachel Weisz, is happily married to Boyle’s son. For one moment, life almost seems calm, a few hidden details, and no one would know.

Leaving for a long overdue holiday, Lena, who is also her father’s assistant,prepares him or herself for life without her, with a list of daily treatments guaranteed to rejuvenate. Within a day, she is back, sobbing uncontrollably as her husband, Julien, played by Ed Stoppard, leaves her at the airport for another women, British pop star, Paloma Faith, who plays herself.

The recently crowned Miss Universe, played by Madalina Diana Ghenea, is also a guest at the spa, and is as attractive as one would expect at that level of competition.

The Europeans have a liberality that most Americans sample when in Rome or any other European beach or spa, the freedom however can still be somewhat unsettling. Sorrentino maintains the freedom in his film with relaxed European attitudes prominently displayed.

There are so many magical moments in this film. Having the fortunate opportunity to screen the film a number of times, I experienced the range of emotions when viewing.

YOUTH was a genuine moving experience. Odd, and I think that part of the beauty of YOUTH is it takes those facades that we all walk behind, the beautiful, the aging, the unattainable, the knowing and peels back the layers.

There are special scenes as the Opera singer, the hotel evening entertainment, one would conclude from her appearance and gift that she was impersonal, almost removed from normalcy and then after she delivers an aria the next scene she is enjoying a delicious chicken leg, with gloves on and eating with determination.

The ensemble cast creates this wonderfully presented film with each having these stunning moments, standouts that allow for the simplicity to project the depth of life. Youth may hold illusion of vitality and immortality and a well lived life is one lived.

Life, no matter what walls one puts around oneself, the wall of a spa, protection, hope, life is still lived best outside the walls.

YOUTH is in theaters now. A genuinely moving experience it should be around during the upcoming awards season.

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