Cannes 2015: Paolo Sorrentino’s 'Youth'

Personally I think Paolo Sorrentino is too young to be ruminating on age. But to listen to Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine as they face the hurdles of growing old is a treat. And in the end, this is a film about youth, not old age.

In the 1980s producers Hisami Kuroiwa and Peter Newman created the two hit films “Smoke” and “Blue in the Face” in which Harvey Keitel played a younger version of himself while living in Brooklyn in a working class neighborhood. Now in “ Youth”, he is a director of some note, planning his next production to star the great “Brenda” (Jane Fonda) while holing up with his crew in an A level sanitorium (spa) somewhere in the Swiss Alps. La Fonda is superb as a brassy, vulgar star who in her sneering way causes Harvey to lose hope in the future. Future is an attribute of Youth.

While memory shows the past forgotten and far away, it is the future that looks so close and that keeps us young. Harvey Keitel demonstrates this to his crew by having them look though the different ends of a telescope. The demonstration of the different views captures the essence of this film as it looks out upon the beautiful clean mountain nature of the Swiss Alps.

Michael Caine, a retired composer and conductor, and his daughter played by Rachel Weisz, are superb as only a father and daughter of their high caliber could be. While Caine refuses to appear before the Queen to conduct his simple tunes created and sung only by his deceased wife, he is able to conduct nature and its noises divinely and is able to reconstruct a future for himself and his daughter.

This Pathe-sold, Pathe coproduction between Italy, France , Great Britain and Switzerland, looks like the sequel to “A Great Beauty” and like most sequels, it falls short of its model. Part Fellini and party Thomas Mann (Magic Mountain) the visuals and the music almost exceed the film itself. However, the cast holds the entity together and like life on Magic Mountain, the audience must allow itself to sink into the posh comfort while dealing with the distinct discomforts of life’s aging processes.

In the press conference, a large dias with Paulo Sorrentino, Paul Dano

Harvey Keitel, Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda, in a smallish press room spoke of what made them work on this film; what past roles they, like the actor in the film, could not shake off; their thoughts on aging, how it is to work in Hollywood with Hollywood mores.

Watch the press conference here:

Jane said, “This film is not a satire on Hollywood, it is very true to life. The relationship between the actress Brenda, and her producer-director is very true to life, ‘a la Sorrentino’, that is, somewhat surreal.”

Michael Caine’s response to the question of working in Hollywood and the relationships among actors, directors and producers was that “Making movies is the same everywhere, only [in Hollywood] you get more money for it.”

It has been 49 years since Michael Caine was in Cannes. “Alfie” 50 years ago won in Cannes, but he did not, and so he never came back. This time however he loves the film so much that he would go with it anywhere for free. “If any of us gests an award we all [the cast] should get awards.”

Someone asked Sorrentino about his choice of the Norwegian group. He looked a bit confused and said he did not choose them. His music supervisor and composer, David Lang did it all.

His Dp, Luca Bigazzi, and he have been friends for a very long time and Sorrentino’s own vision and the Dp’s are very close to the same. It is the visuals which are always most outstanding in his films and within such a framework, the characters he studies are rigorously tested by the high level of circumstances in which they must perform. This is literal for the actors as well as for the characters who find themselves in the top, almost god-like position.

When asked, “Have any roles stuck to them longer perhaps than they would like?”

· La Fonda immediately spoke up naming “Barbarella” which has stuck to her and said she, she is conflicted by it.

Harvey answered “no”. · Rachel said “The Mummy”. “I don’t regret it at all, but young people are always saying, ‘Oh you’re from ‘The Mummy’. I like it.”

· Michael Caine said “Alfie” and commented on Alfie being a womanizer whereas he has been married to the same woman for 46 years.

Why is Sorrentino so interested in the passage of time?

“This is the only thing that interests people”, he said, “me at least. The theme fascinates me. I am passionately interested in the future which gives us freedom. The future gives us the feeling of youth. Optimistically, it dispels our fears.”

The question arose about how Sorrentino got such a wonderful ensemble:

Harvey: “Everyone of us has personal reasons for working in this film. We all have feelings about time.”

Paul Dano: “For me, it comes from the writing. I pore over it and figure out how we’ll do what we do. Paulo’s writing is wonderful.”

Rachel agrees with both but for her it’s all about the director, unifed in turn by a piece of music. How a director directs gives a point of view. If another director directed this movie, it would be an entirely different movie.

Michael Caine, who already cited the fact that both he and Harvey Keitel were soldiers though at different times, but that they share a soldierly bond in their long-time friendship, again cited being a soldier, going into an extremely dangerous situation in which you try to keep everyone alive. This was his experience with “Youth”.

Paolo added that “Music and cinema are two forms of art, two forms of beauty that will never disappear and is constantly changing”

On aging:

Jane spoke of her obvious make up in her scene, showing her vulnerability to aging.

Michael Caine spoke of showing his aging body.

Jane answered, “Yes one is vulnerable playing an old woman putting up the mask of makeup. When she removes it (and the wig) she becomes very vulnerable and that is fun to play.”

How does Jane Fonda define youth?

“Age is very much a question of attitude. If you have passion in your life, you are young. You remain young and vital in mind when you have passion in your life. I do and the film does.”
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