Tuesday, December 29


Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
2015 Comedy Drama
2 hours 3 minutes
From Fox Searchlight Pictures

Michael Caine
Harvey Keitel
Rachel Weisz
Paul Dano
Jane Fonda
Alex Macqueen

For a good 30 minutes I wasn't sure I liked it or was going to.  I was thinking... gee, this would make three in a row and let's face it, I like most movies.  I hung in there, relaxed a bit, put all my notions and viewpoints aside and decided to just let it unroll before my eyes.  I'm glad I did.

I came away with two strong feelings.  I knew it was a decidedly European film that happened to have been done in English.  In another time with a different cast, this could have had subtitles.  And I soon realized after that first half hour that it was my American nature that was having the struggle.  Once I called upon a European sensibility, it began to work for me.

My second discovery was not so much that the piece was European but rather that it didn't feel so much like a film as it did taking a stroll through a museum.  Yes, going from one beautiful art piece after another and catching glimpses of conversation along the way.  This film was one after the other of gorgeous sets and natural outdoor settings.  It's one of the most beautiful looking films I've seen in some time. 

So before the subject gets away from me, I must commend the superb camerawork of Luca Bigazzi and the exquisite production design of Ludovica Travaglioli.  What an eye they have for opulence and capturing natural wonders.  Adding to it, however, was the gorgeous costume design of Carlo Poggioli and a stunning musical score by David Lang. 

At a spa on spacious rolling grounds at the foot of the Swiss Alps are two friends.  Fred (Caine) is a retired musical conductor and  Mick (Keitel) is still working as a movie director.  Mick is accompanied by a small troop of moviemakers who have an important final scene to film for their movie.  Fred is accompanied by his about-to-be-divorced daughter (Weisz) who keeps his life running smoothly.  Fred, happy in his retirement or as happy as he is likely to be, is being encouraged by an emissary (Macqueen) of  Queen Elizabeth's to play his own compositions at a birthday party-concert for Prince Philip. 

Fred and Mick's friendship is at the heart of the film.  These are two old codgers who may do some sparring from time to time but they form a solid foundation of mutual respect and humor and honesty.  It also happens that Mick's son is married to Fred's daughter and he is about to leave her for a woman who provides him better sex, something upsetting to both fathers who are told at the same time.  The old friends have a lively discussion about a woman in their past, who, at different times, had a relationship with both men.  They provide amusement as they pick over the various members at the spa.

Getting older, being older, dealing with being older is also at the heart of the film.  Pills, canes, walkers and wheelchairs are some of the many props.  Paul Dano's character is around to bring some levity to the age issues.  He plays an actor who is tired of being well-known for playing a cartoonish character.

How the story is laid out is what may be a deal-breaker for some.  Americans are used to that being a little more linear, tighter, coherent.  Here it seems more like a series of vignettes and they don't always have a beginning, middle or end.  Some seem like flows of consciousness rather than a give-and-take dialogue.  Some chats while strolling along a mist-enshrouded path may have something to do with a plot point and some not. 

Most all of the dialogue is delivered without a hint of urgency.  The one exception-- and indeed it seems like a different movie for a moment or two-- is when Jane Fonda arrives for the first of her two scenes.  She's come to tell Mick in person that she has decided to withdraw from his movie.  Her name was needed to finance the film so her decision does give Mick some pause and their bickering is tense.  Some might say a little rough for such a light-hearted film.

I barely know who director Paolo Sorrentino is.  I have heard of a couple of his films but have not seen them.  I cannot, therefore, comment on his work here in comparison to any of his other work.  I know the overall responsibility of any film, well-done or not, falls to the director with some considerations given to the fact that editing may be taken away from some directors by the studio.  This had an auteur's stamp all over it. 

The acting was uniformly delicious and the large supporting cast was simply a revelation... a number of whom were certifiable eccentrics and others, including a Miss Universe, a sight to behold in various states of undress.

A slight regret for me personally.  Michael Caine and Jane Fonda had no scenes together.  I was looking forward to seeing them together, 48 years after making Otto Preminger's southern potboiler, Hurry Sundown.  Oh well.

The exteriors of the hotel (I need to consider hauling out my bucket list) were done in Switzerland and brief scenes were also filmed in London, Venice and Rome.

Next posting:
Movie review

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