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- Youth, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, is a film steeped in ideology that is beautifully constructed and creatively conveyed. It is a film lacking almost entirely in plot or progression, deliberately so, in order to focus instead on developing a purely emotional journey that is to be experienced by the audience. The plot can be summarized as follows: Fred is sad about his wife, but conducts for the Queen anyway (we don’t know why), Mick becomes sad about his most recent film project, but becomes sad about his life instead and kills himself (we hear nearly nothing of him after this point), Lena, Fred’s daughter, is broken up with, but quickly finds another man, and Jimmy the actor is going to play Hitler in a movie and then doesn’t. By operating with such a simplified plot, Sorrentino has complete control over pace, tempo, and emotional delivery of his cinematic experience through many of the conventions covered in The Language of Film. As a film whose main characters are old and conduct regular conversations about aging, health, memory, and regret, one of its primary aims is to portray a realistic and sincere depiction of the aging process and its impacts on our psyche. Sorrentino is able to expand upon this through the use of his supporting cast to develop a more universal application.
- I’ll identify and expand upon the ways in which Sorrentino develops additional core concepts through inventive and varied use of frames, images, and sound, as well as meaning constructed through editing techniques.
- Being a film formed by such a simple and seemingly insignificant story, it nevertheless delivers through frames and images a plot rich in emotion and meaning. Fred Ballinger’s insistence that he no longer conducts, nor does he desire to do so, is seemingly contradicted by the betrayal of his compulsive candy wrapper flicking. The candy wrapper, but never the candy, appears throughout the film as a closely observed and tightly-captured symbol of Fred’s obsession with the tune and the extremely emotional bond he feels for his wife. The wrapper appears in Fred’s first camera appearance in the film, and the moment of its flicking marks a transition from conventionally capturing the back-and-forth conversation between Fred and the Queen’s representative into a montage of image stills: of an elderly woman with a healing eye smoking a cigarette, of youthful women exercising in the pool, nearly still, of an elderly man sitting in a pool, and the monk meditating in the changing room. Such use of montage, which I’ll cover in later under editing, is a reliable tool for Sorrentino. Long shots - most notably Lena’s monologue in the middle of the film - force our attention and demand our focus by intensifying the emotional delivery of her monologue. While we are unable to look away from her scathing attack on her father, we are also unable to glimpse Fred’s reaction, if any, given his apathy. As no eye contact is conveyed through images, it is almost as if Lena is speaking her feelings out loud to herself without her father present at all. As such, the delivery is much more a therapeutic self-admission than it is a call for change in the behavior of her father. Frequent use of unique framing, which occur throughout the film, such as the early hallway scene, portrays immediate contrast of characters and allows for emotional insights, hints, and clues, into its characters. At around eleven minutes into the film, Fred walks to his room at night in the hotel. It is a lengthy piece, shot entirely from just a few inches above the ground, to take advantage of its unnatural feel with the rest of the shooting in the film. Here, the hallway lighting is extremely dim, and the angle depicts Fred’s head to be nearly scraping the ceiling, with the width of the hallway feeling incredibly narrow due to the unnatural nature of the shot. In these halls he looks disoriented, uncomfortable, and powerless, a very different Fred Ballinger than depicted just a moment ago holding his ground against the representative of the Queen.
- It would be very nearly criminal not to delve into the film’s inventive use of music, both diagetically and non-diagetically. The guitar piece “Onward,” whose name carries with it the importance of forward momentum, is introduced to us through diagetic means by a performer playing on the stage. While it is implemented throughout various sequences later on, its diagetic introduction is a sincere attempt by the director to insist that this music is a product of this world deemed worthy of extra attention while insisting upon the deliberateness of its composition. It is a beautiful piece that calls for reflection, peace of mind, and slow, careful steps. By contrast, non diagetic use of the instantly recognizable “Neckbrace” by Ratatat (interestingly not included or listed on the film’s soundtrack) completely dominates the scene in which Lena is pursued by the kind, bushy-bearded mountaineer and establishes the instantly exciting and sexy tone that will characterize their budding relationship. While Sorrentino is deliberate in the composition of original pieces of work that are introduced to the audience through diagetic means, such as the guitar piece and Simple Song #3, his mixed use of sound editing by means of his diverse soundtrack is indicative of a director seeking sharp thematic and emotional contrasts through creative means.
- One of the first sequences heavily involving Sorrentino’s editing style appears just after thirteen minutes into the film, in which the residents staying at the hotel are depicted in their daily activities at the pool. This montage takes place with actors moving before a stationary camera. The sequence begins with women changing in the dressing room, chatting with one another, contrasted by men, dressed almost as doctors, in silence, unwilling or unable to engage one another, echoing Fred and Mick’s inability to speak openly and plainly to one another. Sorrentino takes advantage of the ability of the pool to refract the images of swimmers, delivering to the audience yet another unnatural depiction of the elderly (the earlier being Fred in the hallway) whose heads look as if they are placed on shrunken bodies. Next, the elderly are guided by a youthful employee as if they are cattle, or as if they are being processed. They are soon positioned in the pool, bodies nearly touching, as if (and I do not intend to sound melodramatic) they are lying in a mass grave, side by side, their bodies once again refracted by the water’s light bending qualities for an unnatural image. Such montage sequences are found throughout the film to dramatic effect. Perhaps the most haunting editing sequence is in the film’s final orchestral performance in which Fred’s recollection of his gape-mouthed wife, a husk of her former self, is cut between shots of the youthful Sumi Jo. In doing so, there is a suggestion of comparison between the still-youthful Jo and the now-Melissa who bears the brutal marks of aging. Such a haunting image appearing in the film’s beautiful orchestral performance additionally enhances its depressing emotional impact upon the audience, who previously is not afforded a clear shot of Melissa’s face.
- As I close, I’d like to speak again on sincerity. It is so entrenched in this film that it should absolutely be studied as a central, if not the central, core product of Youth. New Sincerity is what contemporary critics consider to be (or possibly be - we don’t quite know yet) the post-post-modernism emerging in our modern era. Works falling into this category tend to avoid cynacism and irony and focus instead on a sincere representation and consideration of the world. Certainly a great deal of the narrative should immediately come to mind. Such examples include Mrs. Universe’s deliberately constructed “I appreciate irony. But when it is steeped in poison, it is drained of its force and reveals something else - frustration,” Jimmy’s impassioned plea in the film’s near-conclusion for Desire rather than Horror (because “[Horror’s] not what makes us alive”), the topic of levity throughout the film, alongside the film’s repeatedly honest representation of aging. Music is the blood of film, and the soundtrack is sincere not only in its soft, lush guitar guiding us through the emotional journey, but again, by its diagetic composition and representation throughout the work. The topic of sincerity as a cultural phenomenon is far too new (and too weird - because it’s a pretty basic concept, isn’t it?) to conclude upon this note in any dramatic fashion, but the film’s constant defeat of empty, ironic narratives (such as that of “the crew”) and employment of nearly-hokey lines and scenes throughout (such as Mick’s telescope scene with the crew to demonstrate old age, and Jimmy’s “I didn’t think I was up to it” fatherhood scene with the little girl) promote an emotion of sincerity above all else.
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