He enters from behind, so to speak, his enormous back to the screen, revealing a gigantic tattoo of Karl Marx’s face. It’s not actually Diego Maradona (the actor is called, appropriately, Roly Serrano) but you could be forgiven for making that mistake: he’s a dead ringer for the Argentine superstar, albeit even fatter and sadder, and Youth is a Paolo Sorrentino film, so when it comes to the distinctions between dreams and reality, all bets are off.
Sorrentino is the Neapolitan maestro responsible for ll Divo, This Must Be The Place and the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty. His movies are stylish, surrealist meditations on love and regret, sex and death, age and beauty. They are chic and vulgar, moving and silly, gorgeous and grotesque, sublime and ridiculous. You know – like life. Plus the clothes are always great; Michael Caine’s collection of tweed bucket hats in this one ought to win the costume Oscar on their own.
Maradona might not be real but there are other eye-catching cameos – Jane Fonda as a frosty, faded film star; a game Paloma Faith (that’s Paloma Faith) as, erm, Paloma Faith; an eye-popping turn from the Romanian model Madalina Ghenea as Miss Universe – as well as strong performances from Paul Dano, as a questing movie star; Rachel Weisz, fierce and formidable as a woman scorned, and shot by Sorrentino like an Italian movie star of the Sixties; and Harvey Keitel as a famous film director in search of his lost mojo.
But this is Caine’s film. With wit and delicacy he plays a retired composer and conductor, drolly austere in his beautifully tailored suits, with his lustrous snow-white hair, marooned at an exclusive spa resort in the foothills of the Swiss Alps, from where he fends off requests from the Queen, no less, to perform his most famous work for Prince Philip, who “listens to nothing else”.
Caine is 82 now. There is an argument to be made that he’s the real maestro in this film full of them. But who cares about real? Sorrentino’s interested in the nature of art, the beauty of nature, the history of film – his wild shifts in tone, his images at once painterly and soft-pornographic, mark him out as one of the most gifted and distinctive filmmakers working today. His next project is a TV series, The Young Pope, with Jude Law as the pontiff and Diane Keaton his confessor. No word yet on the participation of a certain former number 10 for Napoli.
Youth is released in cinemas on January 29