Cannes review: Michael Caine in ‘Youth’ drops too much heavy wisdom

21 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cannes 2015: Michael Caine recalls trading jokes with the Queen at Youth press conference.

The affectionate and curmudgeonly friendship between two artists, played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, is at the unstable core of Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth. She said to me, ‘I have a feeling you have been doing what you do for a very long time.’ And I almost said, ‘And so have you.’ ” Caine stars alongside Harvey Keitel in writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s second English-language film, Youth, which screened in competition at the Cannes film festival on May 20.

Caine approaches his role as the retired conductor and composer Fred Ballinger with relish, emotional intelligence, and some of the comic timing of Eric Morecambe. Ballinger sports tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and a wry expression similar to the world-weary hero of Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, which won the Oscar for best foreign language film

Keitel is a film director hard at work on his next movie, while Caine is a former orchestra conductor who refuses to come out of retirement, even at the behest of the Queen. Caine, whether wandering the hills with Keitel, swimming with Miss Universe or helping young violinists improve their style, gives his best performance in decades.

But he added: “I loved this film so much I’d go with it anywhere, for nothing.” Continuing as a royal raconteur, Caine recalled the time the Queen had asked him – at a party! – if he knew any jokes. “None that I can tell you, ma’am,” he answered carefully. Caine tells his distraught and recently separated daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz): “Music is all I understand, you don’t need words and experience to understand it, it just is.” The same could be said about the structure of this filmic symphony. Youth is, not surprisingly, a meditation on aging, set at a posh Swiss hotel frequented by monks, actors, former soccer stars and even a Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea).

Asked why he made Caine’s character a conductor, Sorrentino said he just thought it sounded like an interesting job. “It’s my ignorance that made me opt for this choice,” he said, adding: “They wave their hands around; whether just to look good I don’t know.” Caine practiced four weeks on a key scene that shows him conducting — perhaps in flashback; wouldn’t want to say if the Queen gets her way. The ultimate compliment on his performance came when “the lead violinist came up to me at the end and said, ‘You’re better than the guy we had last week.’ ” Asked if he minds playing elderly characters, Caine said it beats playing dead ones. There are a series of musical interludes with songs ranging from pop classics to opera with Palamo Faith, Mark Kozelek and Sumi Jo all playing themselves. He remembers some confusion a number of years ago when he was sent a script and thought he’d be reading for the part of the lover, only to be told they wanted him as the dad. It was then he realized: “I wasn’t going to get the girl any more, but I was going to get the part.” As to appearing shirtless and laid out on a massage table in Youth, he said: “It didn’t matter to me because it’s the only body I’ve got.” Besides, he said, scenes like that send a message to the young: “This is what’s going to happen to you.

So don’t get too smart about it.” Caine will always be remembered for the womanizing Alfie, just as Fonda noted that she remains associated with Barbarella, a classic great-bad movie from the same era in which she played a sexy astronaut. “It stuck to me. And that’s all I have to say.” “If I had to play Alfie again I’d certainly be able to do it,” said Caine, “but an 82-year-old Alfie wouldn’t be quite as virile.” Besides which he’s also cultivated a new generation of fans. “I’m Batman’s butler. This is France of course, the home of auteur cinema, which dictates that films are a representation of the director, and never does it appear to be truer than here. Most bizarre are the fictional representations of real-life characters who infatuate him, including surreal musings on Diego Maradona, Hitler, a levitating Buddhist and a veiled Arab woman.

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