Michael Bergeron
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Paolo Sorrentino on Youth

Paolo Sorrentino on Youth
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The visual style of Paolo Sorrentino propels his films by placing the characters in larger than life surroundings. Some of Sorrentino’s recent films include Il Divo (2008), This Must Be the Place (2011), The Great Beauty (last year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film).

With Youth opening today domestic audiences have a chance to experience the shape, color and form of Sorrentino’s film aesthetic.

“I work in a very classical way with my collaborators,” Sorrentino says to Free Press Houston in a phone interview. “We work very hard on casting and scouting the locations. That enables us to find good images that translate on the screen. I work hard with my editor to find the best version of what has been filmed.”

Youth takes place at a resort tucked into the Swiss Alps. We meet a variety of well-to-do people getting some luxury rest and relaxation. Some, like an actor played by Paul Dano, are killing time or recharging their batteries between projects. Others are at a kind of crossroads of life, moving back and forth from retirement to a last artistic hurrah.

“Michael Caine was the first actor cast. I had him in mind when I wrote the film and if he had said ‘No’ I probably wouldn’t have done the film,” says Sorrentino.

The next actors cast were Jane Fonda and Harvey Keitel, “I had met Paul Dano previously in Los Angeles and had wanted to work with him also.” Caine wants to shy away from the accolades he achieved as a famous modern classical composer. Keitel, an acclaimed film director, works on what may be his final film. He hopes to entice Fonda to star.youth

Meanwhile an emissary from the royal family wants Caine to perform his “Simple Songs #3” for the Queen. Caine, for reasons that become apparent during the movie, refuses to perform in public.

Caine and Keitel make odd bets, like on whether another couple staying at the mountain retreat will talk during dinner when they aren’t discussing their prostate issues. “It was an ironic way of dealing with the real problems of life. Older people really talk about their health problems all the time,” says Sorrentino.

Sorrentino’s films also contain amazing soundscapes and Youth is no exception. Sometimes we hear the music in Caine’s head as he conducts the sounds of nature in an ad hoc symphony. “Simple Song #3” gets teased throughout the film only to be performed in its entirety at the end of Youth. And it’s a tremendously moving sequence.

“Our main concern was the song. We gave hints throughout the film about the song,” says Sorrentino. “We were concerned that by displaying the whole song the ending would’ve been disappointing. Maybe we would’ve been smarter not to play the whole song at all,” Sorrentino muses.

Youth unwinds exclusively at the Edwards Grand Palace and the downtown Sundance Cinemas Houston.

— Michael Bergeron