"a beautiful film, sweet and sentimental but only manages to touch the surface of a story that had the potential to have some true depth"

Set in the splendour of the Swiss Alps, Paolo Sorrentino’s new film Youth is a melancholy story of lost time. Ageing artists Mick and Fred are companions at the road’s end; the past for them is a distant memory and the future is obscured by death. Their youth is a point so far behind them that neither can conjure clear enough memories of it. They have both grown old without understanding how they got there.

Michael Caine plays world-weary retired British composer Fred Ballinger. Fred is a man who has nothing left to give. He is empty, but unlike lifelong friend Mick (Harvey Kietel) he has no desire for fulfilment. He has turned his back on his career and will conduct for no one, not even at the royal request of the Queen. Mick, on the other hand, is driven, surrounded by the youthful passion of his team of writers he strives to create his last film, his last testament.

Sequestered in their mountain resort, they watch the lives of the young unfold around them while taking stock of their own. The loss of love, time and bodily function – their prostates betraying them is a popular topic of conversation as is the loss of a shared young love – play heavily on their minds.

There is something about Youth that is vaguely reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’s film The Lobster, also starring Rachel Weisz. These people, young and old, have retired to this remote location to become transformed. They go about their relaxation in a regimented way, queuing in their uniform of fluffy white robes, waiting for an attendant dressed in medical garb to administer that release. The clinical approach to something that should come naturally is unsettling, in The Lobster it is finding a mate and in Youth it is relaxation. Ultimately, failure to change - to adapt and grow - is the making of the character’s demise. However, Youth is much lighter, more sentimental and less bizarre.

The film is visually arresting with its swooping vistas, haunting portraits, rich angles and stunning perspectives. A particularly memorable moment is when Fred returns to his adopted home of Venice in a dream and is walking on a pathway with the newly crowned Miss World in a submerged St Mark’s Square. However, all this style tends to obscure the narrative. The visuals are too big for a story that is almost too small. It is entertaining and it is hard not to drown in the beauty of the thing but ultimately it is let down by the relative weakness of the story. This makes some of that art feel empty and almost indulgent at times.

Storyline's are skimmed, unnecessary plot lines are included and psychology is left unexplored. The dynamic between Fred and his daughter (Weisz) is particularly interesting but Sorrentino doesn’t seem interested in delving too much into it. Paul Dano’s character also lacks substance; he is an actor who has become cynical because despite his drive to play ‘serious’ parts he will only ever be known for the one role in a mindless blockbuster. An exceptionally jarring inclusion was Paloma Faith’s character, which was cartoonish and completely discordant with the elegance of the rest of the film. Equally erring is the preoccupation with Miss World, who does turn out to be much more intelligent than they give her credit for, which makes it not entirely sexist that they spend a good amount of time ogling her naked body.

Youth is a beautiful film, sweet and sentimental but only manages to touch the surface of a story that has the potential to have some true depth. Sorrentino’s preoccupation with the image is captivating yet maybe in his next film the story he tells will also be.