Friday, December 11, 2015
At a luxury resort (Berghotel Schatzalp) in Davos Wiesen, Switzerland, nearly 80-year-old retired musician Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is pampered daily with massages, spa treatments, delicious meals, and doctor checkups. The annual retreat is arranged by his daughter-assistant Lenna (Rachel Weisz) who feels neglected due to Fred's devotion to music in early years, yet ironically she encourages him to continue to work even after his retirement. Also at the resort, Fred also playfully exchanges old memories and new discoveries with his longtime friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who is finishing up his latest screenplay with a few young writers. With humor and wit, they reflect on their accomplishments, mischiefs, ambitions, and regrets. But they also look for the future despite the typical scenes of elderly guests being served by young staff at the resort.
When a Queen's emissary (Alex Macqueen) comes to ask Fred to conduct a concert of his most famous work "Simple Songs" in receiving a knighthood, Fred downright refuses due to "personal reason." That response resonates with an American actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) who is preparing for a role at the resort. However, Fred may be not only misinterpreted by Jimmy, but also misunderstood by his daughter Lenna.
Just like those resort guests indulging themselves in an extravagant environment for the one-percent, the writer-director Paolo Sorrentino immerges the film into exuberant and grand details to serve his story and characters. The lush visual can stand alone and still be appreciated if you mute the soundtrack. But that would be taking an extremely important piece out of the film. The music in the film is a personality by itself that intertwines with film's characters. Either Igor Stravinsky's soothing Berceuse or Paloma Faith's flamboyant music video, even the amusing moos from cows, surely transcend the atmosphere and mood effectively.
But the most mesmerizing moments come from the enlightening conversations that are full of wisdom, sensitivity, poignancy as well as humor: Fred and Mick nostalgically look back at their younger years and unequivocally envy the youthful presence of new generations; Jane Fonda shows up as a diva Brenda Morel, and blasts off at Mick with blunt honesty and rage; an eccentric young masseuse (Luna Mijovic) innocently and eloquently shares her perspective about intimacy.
No one can stop aging, but it's better to have stories to tell when one gets old and still has inspiration to make new stories. Although the location may not be crucial, but having the Alps as the backdrop certainly doesn't hurt while telling a story.