Monday, January 4, 2016

Life's last delusions

Director Paolo Sorrentino is only 45 years old yet he seems obsessed with age, the aging process, personal legacy, even death. Is he an old soul or old before his time? In his The Great Beauty, which won the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), an aging aristocrat of the beautiful people persuasion, ruminates on his life amongst the seeming boredom of the elite world around him. In Youth (at the Landmark Main), two aging artists - composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) – lifelong friends, are vacationing at a Swiss spa. They seem depleted, indeed vanquished, of energy. Especially Ballinger, who adamantly maintains he has retired from composing, and seemingly synonymously, life. Boyle isn’t so defeated and in fact is among a group of young writers working on a screenplay for a new movie roughly titled Testament, as in his own. The film’s context makes it seem these men are actually older than they are, but they're only in their 70s. Hell, those are the ages of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Ballinger and Boyle walk around the spa’s grounds talking about the joys of having a good piss. The plot rambles from topic to topic and scene to scene and the juxtapositions, rather than repel, tend to absorb. Maybe it’s me. I like films that are talkies in the sense of philosophical meanderings on the world, life, and the point of it all. Films like My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, 1981) and the first two of the Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy Before trilogy (Richard Linklater) can make me go gaga, as much as an action movie freak likes Schwarzenegger films. Deep thoughts, or at least pseudo deep, but I’ll taken them. Boyle to Ballinger, “You say that emotions are overrated. But that's bullshit. Emotions are all we've got.” And Ballinger, “You were right. Music is all I understand” after his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) verbally lacerates him for having neglected her mother and her. The movie seems to say that the trivial is important. Like the joy of being able to piss even a few drops, the rules of attraction are about the basest and minutest details. Ballinger’s daughter is unceremoniously dumped by husband Julian (Ed Stoppard) for blond pop star Paloma Faith. Why? She’s better in bed. And the film seems to say that contradictions abound despite out loftiest ideals. Ballinger finally capitulates in every way on a matter of high principle. Like Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty the film moves slowly and meditatively but anything but boringly. And it’s hardly all frowns. Youth, described as a comedy-drama, has plenty of guffaws, such as Ballinger and Boyle constantly betting on whether a svelte bourgeois couple will ever talk. And the two repeatedly laugh at and harangue each other often about their own personal absurdities. The film’s dreamy quality, it’s chattering ruminations offset by some funny sight gags (such as Swiss cows engaged in a chorus) make for more than two hours of engrossing movie-watching, the best newly-released big screen film I’ve seen in months.

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