The last time high-style Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino attempted an English-language film, the results were interesting but muddled: starring Sean Penn as a past-prime goth-rock star crossing America in search of a Nazi war hunter, 2011's unabashedly odd Irish-Italian co-production “This Must Be the Place” had its champions, but was deemed enough of a misfire to send the director back to the safety of home. His follow-up, last year's Fellini-inspired Roman valentine “The Great Beauty” was as Italian as Italian can be, and his most universally acclaimed film to date — even winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Bolstered by that success, Sorrentino is wading back into English-language waters. Boasting Italian, Swiss and British financing, “Youth” will tell the story of two septuagenarian men — one a filmmaker trying to assemble his last masterwork, the other a composer being lured out of retirement — holidaying together in the Alps, and jointly facing their own mortality as they observe the lives of their children, younger colleagues and fellow hotel guests. Sounds like a companion piece of sorts to “The Great Beauty,” with comparable themes of art, ageing and alienation.
Michael Caine was already committed to the project, presumably to play one of the leads. Yesterday, it was announced that he'd be joined by Harvey Keitel (his fellow lead, one imagines), Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz. Hours later, the news landed that Jane Fonda has also boarded the project, making for quite the illustrious ensemble. Fonda, recently Emmy-nominated for “The Newsroom” and last seen (briefly) in cinemas as Nancy Reagan in “Lee Daniels' The Butler,” is an infrequent screen presence: this is surely the most prestigious project to which she's been attached since ending her 15-year film hiatus in 2005.
Sorrentino is one of several recent Best Foreign Language Film winners to follow up the Oscar with an English-language project — though his predecessors haven't always met with success. (The less said about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's “The Tourist” and Stefan Ruzowitzky's “Deadfall,” the better.)
Weisz has a history of working with foreign crossover directors, having starred in Wong Kar-wai's “My Blueberry Nights,” Alejandro Amenabar's “Agora” and, of course, Fernando Meirelles' “The Constant Gardener” and “360”; she's also due to be seen Yorgos Lanthimos' first English-language feature “The Lobster.” Fonda, meanwhile, starred in the French-language “All Together.”
“Youth” goes into production this month and will be introduced to buyers at Cannes. Given Sorrentino's history with the festival, most are expecting a debut on the Croisette next year.