Youth, which made very little at the U.S. box office, deserves to be discovered now that it's available on Blu-ray via Fox Home Entertainment. Not only is it an absorbing meditation on aging, regret, and loss, it's strangely funny and wildly unpredictable.
The setting is a high-end spa in the Swiss Alps. Fred Ballinger (Caine) is a retired composer. He's being plied by Queen Elizabeth II's insistent emissary (Alex Macqueen) to conduct his famed "Simple Songs" at a special concert for Prince Philips' birthday. Never mind the occasion, Fred will have nothing to do with it. He has his reasons (revealed slowly and heartbreakingly as the film proceeds). Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz, also excellent) is vacationing at the spa too, though her relaxation is spoiled by news that her husband is leaving her.
Meanwhile, Fred's best friend Mick Boyle (Keitel) is in attendance as well, struggling with a team of much younger filmmakers to complete the screenplay for his latest film. As they wrestle with deciding how to most poignantly conclude what will undoubtedly be a melancholy account of the final day in a man's life, Mick is quietly confident. The linchpin for securing his film's financing lies in the casting of his longtime leading lady, Brenda Morel (Fonda). As Mick and Fred ruminate on their shared experiences during their long life ("We only tell each other the good things," they both say, perhaps not the most productive way to engage), they encounter a slightly surreal menagerie of bit players ("We're all extras," Mick reminds us, couching his personal philosophy in cinematic terms).
In Sorrentino's world, none of the characters are incidental and neither are their foibles. Whether its an old-soul movie star (Paul Dano) frustrated with being famous for playing a robot, a monk attempting to levitate, Miss Universe (Mădălina Diana Ghenea), or a wheezing, obese soccer legend (Roly Serrano as Diego Maradona), each participant has their moment. With a surprise around every corner, Youth unfolds at a deliberate, though never boring, pace. It's the kind of film that demands repeat viewings in order to savor its nuances.
Fox's Blu-ray boasts a 1080p transfer of Luca Bigazzi's gorgeous cinematography (and this is a breathtakingly shot film, loaded with stunningly poetic shot compositions) and lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix. Disappointingly, the only special features are several promotional featurettes (totaling about 17 minutes of the usual: interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and film clips).
Personally I can't wait to watch Youth again. It's not often that a film feels so irresistibly re-watchable. There are many subtle layers of emotion to peel back throughout this often absurd but always deeply felt film.