Youth. Age Before Beauty.

Youth-Cover-Poster-672x372Gotta love the Italians, for they do bucket-of-frogs bonkers so well.  Cool, cerebral Scandi noir has no place in Italy’s cinemas, they like their characters mad and their storylines madder.  Youth, from Oscar winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, being a perfect case in point.

 

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) are old pals holidaying together in the Swiss alps.  But not just any old pals. Fred, now retired, is a celebrated conductor and composer, Mick is an acclaimed film director working on his latest screenplay. They are also both exceptionally grumpy, especially Fred. So when an obsequious emissary from The Queen shows up with a request from Lizzie herself that Fred conduct his most celebrated work,‘Simple Song’, at a concert for Prince Philip’s birthday, Fred cantankerously refuses.

 

After the emissary returns home, Mick and Fred ruminate on his request and the state of their lives, while we meet other characters staying in the hotel – a grossly overweight Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano); a young, flashy Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) desperate to be taken seriously and Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea), whose spectacular (and very naked) beauty is quite something to behold. We also meet Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) suffering a marital crisis as her husband has run off with Paloma Faith, yes, the Paloma Faith, who appears both in person and in a marvellously trashy pop video.

 

Bonkers enough for you? Less concerned with narrative story than with meditating on age, beauty and wisdom, Youth might sound something of a psychedelic mess on paper but it really works. Mad enough to be amusing entertainment, yet smart enough to make astute observations about its characters, its success is undoubtedly down to the terrific central performance of Michael Caine, whose grumpy exterior slowly melts to reveal a sensitive soul inside. Add in a sterling supporting cast, special mention going to a magnificent cameo from Jane Fonda as a mega-diva par excellence, and you have all the hot headed Italian bonkers-ness you could wish for.  Maybe just detox with an episode of The Killing afterwards.

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Mr Morgan’s Last Love. Lost In (French) Translation.

Mr._Morgan's_Last_Love_PosterIt’s a shame that the name Michael Caine can hardly be mentioned without eliciting Italian Job / Mockerney impersonations from all and sundry. For when the urge takes him, he really is a terrific actor, which we were reminded of when watching Mr Morgan’s Last Love.

Retired widower Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) is an American Professor of Philosophy. A widower, he lives alone in Paris and is struggling to come to terms with life since his wife’s death. Introverted and depressed to the point of suicidal, he lacks friends and even basic French, still limited after several years in France to ordering his favourite sandwich by pointing and talking loudly, to the marvellously Gallic disgust of the shop assistants.

Chancing upon a dance class one day Matthew sneaks in to watch, reminded of how he and his wife used to love to dance. Catching the eye of the class teacher Pauline (Clémence Poésy), to his horror she invites him to join in, starting an unlikely friendship. Both lonely and drawn to each other, they develop a surrogate father / daughter relationship, to the consternation of Matthew’s brattish real children Karen (Gillian Andersen) and Miles (Justin Kirk). But how far can this new relationship go to fill the loss in Matthew’s life?

We’ve seen tales of young women/older men bonding before, so what can this bring that’s new to the party? Melancholic, slow paced and wistful, it could be downright depressing but it’s saved by wonderful performances from both Michael Caine and Clémence Poésy. Not much happens, but that’s not really the point. This is a film first and foremost about the difficulties of getting older, which is not always a rosy prospect. If you’re in the right frame of mind it’s emotional, thoughtful and often quite moving.

UK release 11 July.

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