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'Youth' Is A Meditation On Life's Wonders And Complications

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

"Youth" is the new movie from Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian filmmaker whose last film, "The Great Beauty," won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Youth" is a meditation on the wonders and complications of life, an examination of what matters to people, no matter what their age. The film is set in an upscale Swiss spa that functions as a landlocked ship of fools, allowing us to follow several characters during their stay. The leads are retired English composer-conductor Fred Ballinger, wonderfully played by Michael Caine, and his oldest friend, a movie director played by Harvey Keitel. We meet Ballinger when an emissary from Queen Elizabeth asks if he'd conduct his most famous piece for her. Much to the emissary's despair, the answer is no.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "YOUTH")

ALEX MACQUEEN: (As Queen's emissary) I don't understand - what exactly doesn't work? Is it the date? Is it the location? Is the orchestra? Is it the soprano? Is it the Queen?

MICHAEL CAINE: (As Fred Ballinger) Please don't insist - personal reasons.

MACQUEEN: (As Queen's emissary) What are these bloody personal reasons?

CAINE: (As Fred Ballinger) Personal means that I am not obliged to answer.

TURAN: Another character is Jimmy Tree, a major international star, finely played by Paul Dano, who is ambivalent about his fame as a movie robot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "YOUTH")

PAUL DANO: (As Jimmy Tree) I've worked with all the great European and American directors, but I'll be remembered forever for Mr. Q.

TURAN: This group of folks, joined by costars Rachel Weisz and Jane Fonda, is "Youth"'s focus. But the film's nominally minor players, such as Miss Universe and an aging soccer star, are every bit as memorable and give the film texture and sensibility. Once you accept its rhythms, "Youth" becomes totally involving, dealing with ageless questions - love, desire, memory, creativity and dreams that can thrive or atrophy at any age. Eliminate one person, Fred Ballinger says, and all of a sudden the whole world changes. If "Youth" has a message, that just might be it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A MA MANIERE")

MARIA LETIZIA GORGA: (Singing in French).

WERTHEIMER: Critic Kevin Durand reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.