SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?: While vacationing in the Swiss Alps, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine, left) ponders his decision with his best friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Fred has been offered a knighthood in exchange for conducting his most popular composition at a birthday party for Prince Phillip. However, Fred wants to refuse the offer in order to reflect on his mortality and mend his relationship with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz, not shown). (Photo by Gianni Fiorito© 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)
Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) has chosen to withdraw from the limelight after a successful career as a celebrated composer and conductor. He’s presently staying at a scenic spa in the Swiss Alps where he’s vacationing with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his his best friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel).
Well into their 70s, Mick is working on the script for his next movie with the help of five young collaborators. It turns out that Mick’ss son Julian (Ed Stoppard) is married to Lena, who has just been dumped by him in favor of a British pop singer (Paloma Faith, who plays herself).
While reminiscing with Boyle and soothing his daughter’s fragile psyche, Fred gets a surprising request to come out of retirement by an emissary (Alex Macqueen) from the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II is offering Fred a knighthood in exchange for conducting his most popular piece, Simple Songs, at Prince Philip’s impending birthday concert.
However, Fred decides to decline the command performance that comes with the honorary title. He has shed any desire to perform in public and instead prefers to meditate on his mortality and devote his time to give Lena the attention he denied her as a child. We learn that she still hasn’t forgiven him for focusing so selfishly on classical music during her formative years.
Thus unfolds Youth, a surreal mix of heartfelt introspection and escapist fantasy reminiscent of Federico Fellini. The movie was written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who juxtaposes a variety of jarring images in the movie that are certain to leave a lasting impression, even if you’re not quite sure what to make of the visually captivating scenes.
Caine and Keitel are at their best, albeit in an inscrutable adventure that deliberately does its best to defy definition.
Very Good (***). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and graphic nudity. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures