Screened as the opening night film at the British Film Festival, which is currently in Palace Cinemas around Australia.
Nearly two years ago I gave a near-rave to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, particularly its operatic first scene (which Sorrentino later debunked as being meaningless. Seems appropriate in terms of his work). I was overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of it all, indeed living up to its name in terms of breathtaking visuals. Mostly this scene, let’s be honest.
However, I doubt I would give the same type of rapturous reception to Sorrentino’s Oscar winner if I were to watch it again today, because it indeed amounts to little more than a great, big, beautiful spectacle. Think about it for more than a second, and the handsome facade crumbles.
This is a similar trial faced by Sorrentino’s latest, and his second English language feature, Youth. In tune with the trend of foreign language films being remade for unadventurous English speaking audiences, Youth indeed is The Great Beauty retooled into a quasi-comedy for those who are unwilling to venture outside the comfort blanket of their mother language. He treads the same territory of the ‘death of art’ in its ‘purest form’ by the young, the old watching its demise from the sidelines and endlessly lamenting on the demise in slow, contemplative dialogue.
I say quasi-comedy, because it still has its fair share of self-reflective darkness. It starts off looking potentially like an interesting satire on excess and the shuttered spoils of the privileged, but it all too quickly dissolves into a collection of beautiful, but soulless images that have no connection between them. The beauty quickly loses its appeal, and becomes a true slog until the credits painstakingly roll after two hours of beautiful Swiss alps set to music. Sorrentino, however, directs his actors (at least someone is giving Rachel Weisz work) with enough brevity that they keep things interesting when it gets truly head-scratching, including with one of the strangest cameos of the year. But is Sorrentino perhaps the best prankster? This is the lite, suburban version of art cinema here. He’s able to make audiences think they’re having reserves of meaning unfurled in front of them, only for all of it to be bullshit. Well, I wasn’t falling for it this time.