Fasten your seat belts for Jane Fonda, who gives a seismic jolt to Paolo Sorrentino’s exquisite meditation on art and aging. She plays Brenda Morel, a Hollywood star who visits filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) at a lush Swiss resort. He needs her star power to get his new film financed. Instead, she lowers the boom. “The future is television – so’s the present,” she tells Mick. “Not your cinema bullshit.” It’s a juicy role, and a full-force Fonda plays the hell out of it.
Youth is superior cinema, ardent and artful. Sorrentino, an Oscar winner for The Great Beauty, fills every frame with ravishing images that evoke his idol, Fellini. Gloriously shot by Luca Bigazzi and scored by David Lang, the movie engulfs you like a dream.
Keitel, in peak form, seizes the role of a man who thirsts to make one last film “testament.” Mick is at the resort with his best friend, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a composer who won’t come out of retirement even when the queen dangles a knighthood. Fred’s daughter and assistant, Lena (Rachel Weisz), is married to Mick’s son (Ed Stoppard), who has just dumped her for a pop star. Her distress is echoed by Jimmy Tree (an outstanding Paul Dano), an actor who doubts if he’ll ever get past the robot role that made him a star.
Sorrentino eases us into these tormented lives, letting us breathe with them as their feelings flower or fade. Youth is a feast for actors. Caine and Keitel are wonders to behold. And the sublime Weisz has a rending scene in which she releases repressed anger and gives Daddy both barrels.
Caine, in the best and most moving performance of his later career, reflects the soul of a hypnotic and haunting film that attempts to reconcile youth and age, not set them apart. If that’s cinema bullshit, sign me up.