Depending on who you talked to (and I talked to just about everyone at tonight’s elegant J.W. Marriott poolside after-premiere screening party for Youth) the Paolo Sorrentino competition film got anywhere from a 10- to 17-minute ecstatic standing ovation at the Grand Theatre Lumiere (I saw it earlier at the 8:30 AM press screening). The timing is confusing because the film doesn’t really end when you think it does, leading to some tentative applause before dying down and starting again. At any rate the love in the room for this English-language film, from the very Italian director of the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and nominated Il Divo, was unmistakable. At this morning’s press screening there were some lightly scattered boos (I have HAD it with this rude kind of
behavior from so-called critics. Cretins would be more like it) but they were roundly drowned out by cheers and applause from those who must realize Sorrentino is one of the greats living and working today. Variety did it a disservice by over-emphasizing the booers in a headlined story. This film has many , many more supporters than detractors. It was obvious by the reception it got at the Palais premiere performance and the buzz at the after-party.
Sorrentino has been here lots of times but he was clearly pleased when I spoke to him tonight. This is a film that should greatly appeal to older, r
eview-driven audiences. However when I asked him who the bitter and larger -than- life bitchy movie star character Jane Fonda plays (in an extended cameo that is unforgettable) was based on he clammed up. As the writer he must know. “I just can’t tell you the answer to that, ” the writer/director coyly answered. Could it be such former Henry Fonda co-stars as Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck as has been suggested? Fonda’s entrance in the film , back to camera, hand to hip is one for the ages. And the way she is photographed with heavy makeup isn’t as out there as Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane for instance , but is positively startling nonetheless. But she nails it , big time . It’s a rich performance with very little screen time – a CERTAIN Best Supporting Actress contender. This is oddly two-time winner Fonda’s finest screen work since grabbing another Oscar nomination (her seventh and last to date in 1986) for playing an actress in The Morning After three decades ago. The role also weirdly echoes Fonda’s current career path when the two-time Oscar winning movie star Brenda says at one point, “Television is the future. Hell, television is the present,” about her professional direction. Fonda’s Grace And Frankie series just premiered on Netflix.
Michael Caine told me ( and the world at an earlier press conference) that this was , incredibly , his first trip back to the Cannes Film Festival in 50 years since Alfie in 1966, an astounding fact that floored Daily Mirror columinist Baz Bamingboye when he asked in the earlier press conference, ‘What’s it all about?’ Caine joked the film had won prizes , but he didn’t, so he never came back. He repeated the same thing to me at the Italian heavy Marriott party Wednesday night. But he’s more than happy to talk about this film. He loves it. And he was floored by the ovation, especially considering his inexperience in the last half century of this star-loving festival. ” I couldn’t understand it (the applause). They just kept clapping, I didn’t know what to do. I turned to Paolo and said, ‘do we just walk out and leave now?’ And then it would start up again,” he said. I told Caine (one of my all time favorites ever since The Ipcress File) that this movie represented the second film in which he shared a credit with Jane Fonda who lock , stock and barrel steals this film. “That’s absolutely right, ” he said. “We did Hurry Sundown ( in 1967) but even though we don’t have scenes together here we have reunited and now have wonderful lunches and meals together,” he said. Hurry Sundown was the Otto Preminger film in which Caine played a southerner married to Fonda. There was a very memorable (and sexual ) scene between the two that involved a saxophone as I recall. Caine heads back to England Thursday, but though competition is fierce here this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were called back Sunday to receive a Best Actor prize. “I love this film so much, I would go with it anywhere for nothing. It doesn’t matter to me whether I win a prize or not. And I think that Paolo is one of the greatest directors in the world. The entire cast is brilliant. If one of us gets an award, we should all get a multiple award between us,” the two-time Oscar winner told the earlier press conference which he held captive with his trade mark wit. Witness: “The only alternative to playing elderly people is playing dead people. So I’m quite smart. I picked elderly people, ” he quipped.
Caine is now 82, but he doesn’t look it or show it. This film deals with many themes and yes, aging is one of them, but never growing old is another. Caine is a conductor staying at a Swiss spa and there he muses on the mysteries and wonders of their lives with a director out to make his last great movie. 76 year old Harvey Keitel plays him brilliantly, especially in an ethereal scene where he is re-visiting, almost mystically, all the great actresses he has worked with. It seems incredible , considering his body of work,that Keitel has only once been nominated for an Oscar ( 1991’s Bugsy). Hopefully that will be rectified here. I talked to Fox Searchlight’s co-president Nancy Utley at the party and no decisions have been made on any Oscar campaign strategy though considering the thrust of the film is Caine’s , it would make sense to put Keitel in support. Searchlight also has not yet dated the film but it will not be this summer, and definitely coming out before the end of the year. Can you spell ‘Oscar bait?’ “We just saw this film a few weeks ago and instantly knew we wanted it,” Utley told me about the grab before Cannes even started. It’s a smart move for the reigning champs of the last two Best Picture winners ( 12 Years A Slave, Birdman). This movie will play sensationally to the Academy , particularly older members who might find themselves in some of these characters. It is another perfect example of why this demo is still vitally important, but rarely portrayed seriously in movies like this one.
Among those also at the party was Cannes Jury president Joel Coen and wife , Oscar winner Frances McDormand who co-starred in Sorrentino’s first english language film, 2011’s This Must Be The Place starring Sean Penn. It wasn’t nearly as successful as this ruminative, brilliant new film is going to be. There is no more visually interesting director working today. The love he got from his actors here in Cannes including Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz confirm he’s one of a kind and Youth could become his most successful film yet. “The only subject that really interests people is time that passes,” Sorrentino told the world press earlier today. “It’s how much time we have left that fascinates me in any event. This theme fascinates me. It is something I am passionately interested in. The future gives us freedom, and freedom gives us the feeling of youth.”