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Youth is wasted on the young, said Oscar Wilde; or some claim Bernard Shaw. Youth, written and directed by Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino ( The Great Beauty), is wasteful of the old. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel strive gamely as the ageing pals — retired Brit composer and American filmmaker — wringing memories for drops of truth and wisdom in an Alpine spa hotel.
One moment we’re visionary-elegiac: Sir Mike in a meadow conducting a fugue for cowbells. The next, absurdism meets theatre of cruelty in misfiring salvos of black comedy. Paul Dano, playing a film star, scandalises the guests by donning Hitler drag. Jane Fonda does a brief stellar cameo as a bitchy screen diva.
“Everyone’s an artist, darling” seems the film’s message; though, in his culminating despair, Keitel says: “We’re all just extras.” You wouldn’t want to be even that here: stuck in what seems a rambling riff on Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” or possibly Mann, since this hotel for purgation and purification has clearly tumbled down from the Magic Mountain.