Director and screenwriter Paolo Sorrentino has created an epic study of ageing and creativity. Set in a Swiss spa hotel we are introduced to a wide range of zany and eccentric guests. But the focus is on Michael Caine, as Fred Bellinger, a retired conductor/composer; and Harvey Keitel, as Mick Boyle, a filmmaker working on a title called Life’s Last Day. The pair compare notes on their urinary tracts, a life of fame and glamour, and their childhood sweetheart (though neither know if this imaginary).
This is really an ensemble piece though, with great supporting performances from Jane Fonda as an aging diva, Rachel Weisz as Bellinger’s daughter and unlucky in love, and Paul Dano as an actor who at one point turns up in full Nazi regalia replete with Hitler moustache (a form of method acting!?) The cast are observed in Fellini-esque vignettes and the backdrop of each mise-en-scène is simply superb.
It is clear that Caine’s composer character is losing his marbles, at one point he conducts the cows’ bells in the meadow. But when he advises a young violinist on his technique it is apparent that a lot of his musical gifts are still there. And as for Keitel’s character’s take on the last day of a brilliant man – this gives us all the methods for a film-within-a-film, both focusing of longevity and corporeality.
The Queen of England has been sent to persuade Bellinger to come to England to perform his ‘Simple Songs’. He refuses citing personal reasons and this is no spoiler but suffice it to say you may see Caine in action as the elderly conductor with baton if you stay to the end. As well as the amazing design the film also benefits from a brilliant avant garde soundtrack. Profoundly moving.
Runs at National Media Museum, Bradford from 29 January to 4 February 2016; City Screen York, 29 January to 4th February; The Showroom Cinema, 29 January to 4 February. See imdb.com for a cinema near you.