It’s the resort of the living dead. Or so it seems in “Youth.”
In a fabulously opulent historic hotel in the Swiss Alps, guests in fluffy white bathrobes march single file, up stairs and down hallways. They lie lined up in the resort’s big pool. They sit for dinner in its vast restaurant, where all is shades of white: tablecloths, chairs, cream-colored walls. White, all of it, as a burial shroud.
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Zombies on vacation? Not exactly.
Rather, “Youth” is writer-director Paolo Sorrentino’s heavily aestheticized rumination on aging and regret, (the two go hand-in-hand), on the hold memory has on us, and the distress that comes when memory fades.
It’s also about friendship.
And in fact, there are people in it who speak. A lot
The mute masses are background figures, symbols of mortality, perhaps, of humanity awaiting the grave. In the foreground are two lifelong friends: Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a courtly retired conductor/composer, and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a prominent Hollywood filmmaker on the downslope of his career.
And what do they talk about? Their malfunctioning urinary tracts. Comparisons between daily drops produced are frequent. The matter is of such importance it’s referenced in the picture’s trailer.
They also talk of the state of their friendship, of their children (Fred’s daughter, played by Rachel Weisz, is married to Mick’s son), of their shortcomings as parents.
Mick is a vain pontificator. Surrounded by sycophantic young screenwriters, he ascends a tower to declaim that his new movie, as yet unmade, will be his “moral testament.” And then there’s this: “I know everything there is to know about love.” He’s insufferable.
Fred is reserved and bored with life. “They tell me I’m apathetic, so I don’t do anything.” Caine invests the role with a weary resignation.
Freighted with symbolism and beautifully mounted, ”Youth” is dreamlike and at the same time stultifying. Sorrentino, whose 2013 “The Great Beauty” won the Foreign Language Film Oscar, seems enamored of the imagery created by his cinematographer Luca Bigazzi and production designer Ludovica Ferrario. He lingers on the loveliness. And lingers. And lingers.
There is no life here. Only artifice. And some howlingly awful dialogue. A caustic exchange between Keitel and Jane Fonda, playing a faded Hollywood screen queen, is perhaps the worst thing either of them has ever done: an eruption of cliched recriminations about moviemaking.
Sometimes silence is best.
2 stars out of 5
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino.
Running time: 2:03.
Rated: R, for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language.