New film explores retirement themes in the arts

With one of the world’s largest demographics facing their December years head-on, it’s not terribly surprising that movies have been focusing on what retirement looks like.  In the last few years, that trend has even produced a few fine pieces of cinema that illuminate the artist’s (or at least the art lover’s) experience, including the song-filled twofer of Unfinished Song and Quartet, both released in 2012.

This Friday, a new film launches with a stellar cast, luxe setting and characters at the intersection of classical music and filmmaking. The story of Youth centers on two friends:  Fred, a retired composer and conductor, is played by the inimitable Michael Caine, and his buddy Mick, played by Harvey Keitel, is a still-active filmmaker.  (Doesn’t it seem like Keitel’s real name should be Mick?)  With prodding from Fred’s daughter (Rachel Weisz), they find themselves at an elite spa in the Alps, where much contemplation ensues. Additional supporting roles include a bottle-blonde Jane Fonda and an only somewhat recognizable Paul Dano, who both appear to be relishing their work.  Here’s the trailer:

Even after this preview, questions abound:  this composer is obviously in the less-than-1% of artists who live so well in later life.  Why should the rest of us care, and how can we relate to him?  Who actually retires in this business, anyway? But primarily due to Caine’s depth and prowess as a thought-provoking actor, there is much to consider.  His character struggles with the lack of activity, the stoppage of work, and the prospect of performing again.

So far, reviews have been mixed, and the reception at Cannes this spring has been called “Perhaps the most divisive film to screen in competition so far” (Variety), with boos and plenty of ensuing controversy.  However, there is general praise for Caine’s performance, and many suggestions that this is Keitel’s best work in years.  The sometimes eagerly snarky Rotten Tomatoes gives it high marks in their aggregated ratings, and enthusiasm abounds in spite of the humphers:

Variety, 5/20/15, “Cannes: Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’ Divides Press Audience

Hollywood Reporter, 5/20/15:  “Youth:  Cannes Review

Directed by Oscar-winning Italian Paolo Sorrentino, this is only the auteur’s second English-language film, and marketed as a comedy to boot, but the artistic bones he’s known for appear to be present:  there appears to be no lack of either profundity or visual splendor.  We’re looking forward to seeing the complete film.

Opens December 4, 2015


Youth — IMDB

Film website — Fox Searchlight

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