“Youth” is a Trip to the Spa

Michael Caine can deliver as much to a role as anyone. He has as much screen presence as anyone. Time has seemed unable to change that. “Youth” as a film fits into a few categories that it will serve to describe. This is an “art” film–which broadly means that it is stylized enough such that not everything is explicit. You might have questions. Heaven forbid that this prompts conversation or discussion later (he said with a snicker directed toward today’s overstimulated virtual society).
It is also, despite the plain English, a foreign film more than an American or UK film. It is set, mostly, in the Swiss Alps and the sensibilities are European (it was directed by Pablo Sorrentino, an Italian). This is not to say that the film is hopelessly serious. Italian films (directors) tend toward a capricious display of Life: feelings, desires and Art—all with the kind of simplicity that leaves you slightly renewed and inspired—and no more perplexed than you might already be as one of the living. This allows for the somber, the humorous, the absurd, and some tasteful nakedness–it is, after all, set in a health spa for the elite.
To add to this list–perhaps by merely describing a subcategory of art film–it’s a visual and impressionist film. It’s beautifully shot and infused with an eclectic mix of themes and images. It also lets a few big ideas drop on you from the heights of age, mastery, and experience. For me this requires that (until I can watch it again) I allow myself to experience the film, then let it sort and settle for a while. My brain wants to decide what to do with the ideas and images: which folders to cache them in, but I resist this impulse.  The heart knows best how to file the experience of films like this. A few of the folders are melancholy, tenderness, desire, and regret. . .
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]To deliver one last descriptor, Youth is the kind of film to see when you are in the mood for a short visit to a kind of “movie spa”: your artistic sensibilities get a little massage and some healthier fare.[/pullquote]
Michael Caine plays Fred Ballanger, a famous and aging conductor, who is back at his favorite spa for another treatment. He is reserved–too much so as others suggest.  In one key line, he apologizes for lacking communications skills. “That why I like music. You don’t need words to understand it. You only have to listen to it.” His close friend is played by Harvey Keitel, a film director. They shared everything: women, children and the more discreet plaints of old men.

Rachel Weiss is enjoyable as the caring daughter, and Paul Dano is another curious guest at the spa—an actor who seeks a new stage identity after becoming famous for playing a robot.

You don’t really have to do anything: just watch and let the images, the music and emotions communicate to you and revive you.

The title probably gets its name from a line delivered by the resident doctor who explains that Mr. Ballanger is healthy and that his trip to the spa will bring him “youth.” I don’t know if I felt any younger, but I wanted to go to Switzerland. Maybe that’s a start.



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