Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda
An ageing composer spends a vacation with his writer-director friend at a Swiss spa hotel, where they take stock of their lives. The former tries to comfort his daughter, whose husband has left her, while refusing the entreaties of Buckingham Palace that he perform for the Queen; the latter struggles to complete his latest screenplay with his team of writers. Various other characters come and go, part of an elite cosmopolitan clientele.
The similarities between this and the director's previous film, La grande bellezza (disenchanted lead character, echoes of Fellini again; even Caine's hair is slicked back like Servillo's), only point up the inadequacies of this effort. How thin the line between perfection and vanity. The habit of cutting away to surreal or irrelevant individual details - local colour, you might call it - has become a self-conscious tic, the pathos replaced with a shrug of the shoulders. Part of it might also be the language, Sorrentino's dialogue, deprived of the lilt of his mother tongue, sounding hollow here and, to be sure, Caine is no Servillo. Certainly there are incidental pleasures - how could there not be? Rachel Weisz, for one, is very fine. But the main problem is that the principal character is a cipher, and his all-encompassing relationship with music never convinces. The climax, when we finally hear the work in question, is a huge disappointment, as is Sorrentino's expansive, expensive self-re-enactment. Can the master stylist really have said everything he has to say?