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"Youth," the Milwaukee Film Festival's Opening Night film, achieves a state of grace as it hits its crescendo.

Opening Night films at festivals are hit and miss. And so is Youth, which opened the seventh annual Milwaukee Film Festival Thursday before a full house at the Oriental Theatre’s main auditorium.

MV5BMjI2OTk5MzYyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzY1MjE3NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Opening Night films can be a minor one-off designed to please sponsors, donors and board members or they can mirror of a festival’s identity.

Kudos to Milwaukee Film for offering a challenging though frustrating work.

Anyone expecting director Paolo Sorrentino to reprise his bittersweet Oscar winning The Great Beauty would have been right and wrong.

Like that exquisite film, the earnest and muddled Youth is about pondering what has been lost and fearing what is to come.

It is a series of observational non-sequiturs and elliptical conversations during long walks between a melancholy composer and conductor played by Michael Caine and a director, played by Harvey Keitel, working a screenplay and stuck on a character’s dying words.

Both men feel betrayed by time and Caine is hobbled by loss and regret. They compare notes on how their bodies are failing them, while being pummeled by a masseuse so young she wears braces and who fluidly dances along to a video game in the privacy of her room.

Youth is set at a luxurious Grand Budapest-like hotel in the Alps that suggests a sort of limbo.

Look here and see a levitating – or not – monk. Look there and see a distinguished couple in the dining room eating without speaking a word to each other. See a voluptuous sylph stretched out in the pool across from an obese former athlete with a massive tattoo of Karl Marx on his hairy back.

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The Fellini-esque parade of bodies and faces is given the dramatic shadings of a painting by Carravagio, by Great Beauty cinematographer Luka Bigazzi.

The elements never coalesce with clarity but at its crescendo “Youth” achieves a state of grace. Everything about the “Great Beauty” felt organic reflecting Sorrentino’s roots  in the world created. In “Youth” he is a stranger in a strange land:  an Italian director working with an American and a Brit in Switzerland.

And something gets lost in translation.

With Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda. Produced by Carlotta Calori, Francesca Cima, Nicola Guiliano. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Rated R: Graphic nudity, language, sex. Approximate running time 118 minutes. 


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