Despite its title, Youth is really about aging. Or perhaps a surreal examination of the meaning of youth. For this reason, Youth has been compared to Birdman, apart from the fact that the innovative cinematography in both movies clearly marks them out as distinctive.
Like Birdman, Youth also employs a one-location setting — a posh vacation hotel in the Swiss Alps, where our characters are residing, whilst at the same time encountering a significant crossroad in their lives.
There’s renowned British composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and famed director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), good friends in their 70s. Ballinger is retired and bored with life, despite having offers to perform and write his memoirs, he seems paralysed by the mere fact of age and the absence of his wife. Boyle — and his team — on the other hand, is trying to make a film that will stand as a ‘testament’ to his craft.
In the course of their stay at the resort hotel, they encounter various other hotel guests, including an actor (Jimmy Tree/Paul Dano), a famous ex-footballer (Maradona/Rolly Serrano), a silent elderly couple and even the reigning Miss Universe (see above). There’s the added complication of Lena, Ballinger’s daughter/assistant (Rachel Weisz)
Now, unlike Birdman however, the narrative drive on Youth is placid and ponderous. There are really strong emotional moments, for example when Lena completely eviscerates Ballinger for being a bad husband and father – Weisz delivers a compelling rant, whilst lying down, mind! Also, the confrontation between Boyle and Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) is another dramatic high point.
On the other hand, there are scenes where director Paolo Sorrentino goes all arty-farty on us eg. Ballinger conducting a bunch of cows and Boyle having a vision of all the actresses he has ever directed in an open field, not to mention a startling transformation for Tree. Watch out also for cameos from musicians playing themselves viz. Mark Kozelek, Paloma Faith and Sumi Jo.
So, whilst certainly not at the level of Birdman, Youth is recommended for all arthouse film lovers.