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.