Paolo Sorrentino after his Oscar with «The Great Beauty» returns to Cannes with another masterpiece. So majestic that it may become a timeless classic. But also so simple that you know it will remain a personal favourite.
Fred Balinger is a 80-year old widower and erstwhile glorious classical music conductor, who has long retired and left the international scene. On the contrary, his best friend of the same age, the famous Hollywood director Mick Gordon is now preparing his masterpiece: his 21st film, “The Life’s Last Day,” will be the peak of his career and of his accumulated experience and talent. The two of them are lin the Swiss Alps, in the same luxurious, heavy, traditional resort where they have spent their holidays for decades. Pragmatist Fred wants peace of mind. He does not intend on returning for one last concert with his ” Simple Songs”, not even if it is in the Queen of England’s honour. He is disgusted at the thought of having his biography written, which he resists. “Forget about me” he says to himself, looking at life from a safe distance and without emotion, thinking that everything is now over. Mick on the other hand, the eternal womanizer, equally humorist and cynical, does not intend to be talking only about their patrons. He is surrounded by his colleagues (a group of young filmmakers, who are passionate and truly excited to be participating in the masterpiece of their idol) whose creative vein and energy Mick enjoys.
There are other residents in this hotel. Older couples who do not exchange a single word. Young, immature girls who work there in the summer, but dream of a different future. Middle-aged persons, at the crossroads of their lives, like Fred’s daughter, who recently abandoned by her husband (Mick’s son), needs at the age of 40 to find out that went wrong in her marriage. There are also little children like the boy who studies daily Fred Ballinger’s “Simple Songs” on the violin, unaware that their composer is the melancholic old man sitting on the bench under the boy’s window. With them, there are also misunderstood younger people like the famous blockbuster Hollywood star, who actually takes his art seriously and is looking into the eyes of each holidaymaker for the soul of his next role. Among the residents one can find Miss World whose flawless beauty resembles “God.” But even God himself is there, i.e., Diego Maradona, desolate and sick, hiding from his fans on the one hand and longing for the time he was worshiped on the other.
From the sadness in Michael Caine’s eyes, seen in the posters, photos, the trailer and the scenes released in advance, we were certain that Paolo Sorrentino was making a film about lost youth. About the way the time wrinkles one’s skin, ages and overtakes them. Caine and Keitel’s wrinled bodies in front of the naked perfection of the 20-year old beauty at the pool was a damning image of a convicted desire and an irreversibly lost hope – a hope of touching her, conquering her, even making her look at you even momentarily: at you, who is now the most invisible of men. The hope of dreaming once more that her, and the whole world, can be yours.
The film is of coure also that. But its greatness lies in that it is not just that. Sorrentino is filming young and old bodies alike, with the same tenderness and attractiveness. His camera follows these bodies whether clothed, naked, exposed to public view at the hotel’s spa, with their every detail enlarged through the pool water or through the indiscriminate zoom lens. However, his way of approaching and illuminating young, faces without make up but with braces, or wrinkled faces buried under tones of make-up is exactly the same. It is an approach of simultaneous acceptance, demystification and … great beauty.
Following his emblematic majestic, wet and epic filmmaking, his lyrical cinemascope shots, his rich stylized depth of field, the magical sequences of fantasy, the visualized symbols, the moments of surrealism and humour, Sorrentino wants really nothing more than to compose his “simple song.” A film, which may be much more mainstream in the way it communicates with the international audience (English-speaking, with recognisable, celeb protagonists and dialogues that help you follow its direction), but which in reality is no simple at all. Of course, the question is posed: Who said that simplicity, in life and in art, is not the most important, the purest, the most impossible challenge? A pop film that communicates with masses of viewers? A goal marked by “God” uniting men’s hearts in the same ecstasy? A simple composition, which brings tears to a million eyes? A beautiful woman entering a pool?
But nothing is simple in how Sorrentino orchestrates its topics and answers the most difficult question of life. The phrase that Mick has never been able to find to finish his film. The advice that Fred is unable to offer his daughter. The reason that pushes him to return to what hurts him, scares him, to what makes his heart beat.
In one scene of the film, Mick tells his young colleagues to look at the view through the telescope. At the tall, imperious, eternal mountains. “They seem so close that you think you can touch them. This is youth. This is the way you look at the future.” After turning the lenses around, the mountains are lost deep in the horizon. “This is old age. This way, like something you cannot reach anymore, is how you look at the past. ”
No, Sorrentino has not made a film about lost youth. He made a movie about lost time. Who can stop time, or rather their personal anguish about time? Who can stop looking back, at the mistakes or the glory of the past, stop worrying and make elusive dreams for the future? Who can leave their mental telescope and look lucidly beside them and in themselves? Enjoy the view? Enjoy the present, the now, the actual moment with all their senses? In this present moment we are all accountable. Old people who believe that they lost it. Middle-aged who self-flagellate because they spent it. Young bored by time and discrediting it. Because we can all recognise this special feeling when we succeed in doing so. When a flowery meadow, a “simple song”, a film that finds its aim directly in our heart, a love if we are lucky, remind us that only within such moments can we find exaltation, happiness and our true, everlasting youth.