Perspective shifts as we age- life is an uphill struggle. This is the underlying motif in Paolo Sorrentino’s new film, the follow-up to The Great Beauty. And if that seems somewhat trite as a set- up … it is, rather, with Fred Ballinger portrayed by Michael Caine and best friend, actor Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) coming on like an existential Felix and Oscar. Ballinger, a retired composer, shares ”only the good” with his partner in mischief-making, but refuses to compromise his artistic integrity when asked to perform his most famous symphony by royal appointment.
The Swiss backdrop is beautiful, with endless tracking shots of the landscape contrasting with bodies old and young. This fascination with the skin in which we live permeates every shot- a world where endless youth seems to dominate, mocking the old men, who moan at not even being able to piss anymore.
Ballinger does however find a kindred spirit in one young man- laconic actor Jimmy (a deadpan Paul Dano- who gets the best sight gag of the whole film) a similarly rebellious and unyielding character, with whom he shares philosophical debates by the pool.
But it’s the exchanges between daughter and assistant Lena (a superb, intense Rachel Weisz) which are most moving: she berates her father for a lack of tenderness in raising her and sighs,”you’re a victim of your own apathy”.
Sorrentino’s other female characters are problematic here, though. Jane Fonda, as actress Brenda, is little more than a brutal diva, and Miss Universe (an undeniably gorgeous Madalina Diana Ghenea) only exists as an unattainable totem of lust- despite getting one killer line. Only Lena seems complex, and the film is elevated when she and her father spar. Even Paloma Faith’s cameo seems shoehorned in.
It is however, an entertaining enough film. Caine is funny and heartbreaking, Keitel and Weisz brilliant co-stars. Sorrentino’s sweeping majestic photography is complemented by Mark Kozalek’s lovely melancholic score.
Slight it may be, and it never quite reaches the summit, but the climb is enjoyable.
A pensive Rachel Weisz
At Glasgow Film Theatre until February 11th.