Paolo Sorrentino's sixth film is a light hearted but moving drama with echoes of This Must Be the Place and La Grande Bellezza. It's certainly a more accomplished and gripping work than his rather baffling early efforts, the snail-like Consequences of Love and the overly convoluted Il Divo.
Like This Must Be the Place, it's about music, and like La Grande Bellezza, it's about age. Michael Caine, in a remarkably subtle and dignified performance, plays a retired orchestra conductor spending time at a Swiss mountain retreat. The other guests – including a filmmaker (and friend of Caine's) played by Harvey Keitel and a young actor played by Paul Dano – are equally wealthy and somewhat neurotic in the way that only the very rich tend to be.
Caine's character is forced to confront his past – which is messy and causes him more guilt than we might initially suspect – when his daughter (a brilliant performance by Rachel Weisz) turns up with marital problems. Keitel's character, in a similar way, has to question the validity of his current life choices when one of his actresses (a fantastic cameo from Jane Fonda) mercilessly takes him to task.
Regular Sorrentino audiences will be used to his flashes of surrealism, and Youth is no exception. These are neither frivolous nor unnecessary; instead they are fine touches neatly woven into the film's narrative tapestry. Fellini – a great inspiration to Sorrentino – was known for his dream-like sequences, and was once considered the toast of Italian cinema because of them. The most self-referential aspect of it is the small part for Paloma Faith, a witty and surprisingly non-gimmicky touch which is genuinely hilarious.
It is all about the choices that we make as we get older; some of us carry on doing what we've always done, but increasingly badly; others abandon what they've always done well, though could re-discover it with equal aptitude if they chose to. Sorrentino's beautiful film is a sure handed meditation on how to grow, with his customary musings on all that is around us.