Michael Caine Twinkles At Twilight: Youth Reviewed
There are films to watch and there are films to wallow in. Youth is the latter. It is a rich, sensuous, often stunningly beautiful experience with a performance by London legend Michael Caine that equals his best work.
Caine plays Fred Ballinger, an octogenarian composer who is convalescing from life at a sumptuous spa in the Swiss Alps. The surrounding Sound of Music imagery is apt, as the endlessly striking visuals are drenched in every kind of song you can think of: from Ballinger’s own tear-jerking classical compositions to the hotel band covering 90s house classics, club tracks and mellow muzak, to a hallucinated symphony of animal noises and clanking cowbells. Taken together they amount to a hymn, or rather a requiem, as Fred reflects on his 80 years on earth: the things he can remember and the things he can't.
If that sounds a bit too interior for a trip to the cinema when Star Wars is still playing next door — let it be said that Youth is hands down a far finer audio-visual banquet than any recent blockbuster. Director Paolo Sorrentino is a rare artist and loads the screen with sweet treats for the eye. It's quite breathtaking at times and hard to do justice to on the page: a dreamy encounter with Miss Universe in Venice’s flooded San Marco Piazza; an actor dressed as Hitler eating breakfast surrounded by white China and bright green apples; two old men strolling through Alpine spring flowers reminiscing. The images are even more soulful than Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning Roman masterpiece The Great Beauty.
And in the middle is Caine, who switches seamlessly from everyone's favourite grandpa to a man raging against the dying of the light to extremely powerful effect. This is his most human performance since The Quiet American: wise and stupid, full of both life and death. We hope he has many more films to come, but if this were to be his swansong it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s hard to see how he could beat it in fact.
The supporting cast is also revelatory: Harvey Keitel makes a great intellectual sparring partner, while Jane Fonda goes full throttle as a fantastically deranged diva. Rachel Weisz is also excellent — and nicely links this to last year’s other storm in a health spa film The Lobster. The one misstep is the inclusion of an excruciating cameo by Paloma Faith, yet the film contains so many multitudes it can easily incorporate a bass-note of bad taste. Youth is timeless.
Youth is on general release at cinemas from 29 January.
Last Updated 27 January 2016