Sumptuous, sincere and built on aging bones, “Youth” is a wonder of a film, a look back at life’s sprawling possibilities, dark corners and aspirations.

Directed with an incredible eye by Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”) the film follows Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired maestro known chiefly for one work, and somewhat trapped by that fame. Somewhere in his late 70s-early, 80s, he’s on vacation at a resort in the Swiss Alps with his lifetime friend, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a film director working on his latest script.

Also at the resort is Ballinger’s recently dumped daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz), as well as a famous movie star, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) who, like Ballinger, is known mainly for one role.

What plot there is involves a request by the Queen of England for Ballinger to come out of retirement to conduct his famous work for a royal celebration. Ballinger repeatedly turns down the request, to the shock of the Queen’s emissary.

Otherwise, this is a lovely film of observations and revelations. Fred and Mick commiserate on the indignities of growing old, even as Mick is trying to finish a screenplay he’s written for his lifelong muse (Jane Fonda, who’s fiery and brief late arrival in the film is mesmerizing).

Sorrentino follows the spa’s visitors as they line up and march toward saunas, massages, long baths, all the palliatives for aging bodies. In one stunning sequence, the recently named Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea), who’s also a guest, wades nude into a pool where Fred and Mick are soaking, and you can feel their craving for the potency of their younger years. Even at this age — perhaps particularly at this age — they are awestruck.

“Youth” is simply one of the best films of the year, subtle, beautiful, complex and thoroughly human. It breathes in a way few films do.



Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language

Running time: 124 minutes

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