Paolo Sorrentino returned to the Cannes competition this morning with “Youth,” his English language follow-up to his Oscar winner “The Great Beauty.” While the film drew mixed responses (both boos and applause were audible following the press screening), most seem to agree that its star, Michael Caine, gives an award-worthy performance as a famed composer holed up in Swiss spa for the film’s duration. If this is indeed the start of an awards run for the 82-year-old actor, it should make for an entertaining ride, as today’s press conference for the Palme d’Or contender made very clear.
As Caine confirmed to the press this morning, he last attended the festival a whopping 50 years ago, in support of “Alfie.” “‘Alfie’ won a prize and I didn’t, so I never came back,” Caine joked. “I’m not going all that way for nothing. But this time, I loved the film so much I’d go anywhere for it for nothing. It doesn’t matter whether I win a prize or not. I love this film.”
The film starts with Caine’s character refusing an offer from the Queen to return to the British stage. “[The Queen] knighted me once,” he recalled to the press. “You only get knighted once anyways. I’d nearly got into trouble with her. She said to me (she didn’t say very much), ‘I have a feeling you have been doing what you do for a very long time.’ I almost said, ‘And so have you.'”
Asked, oddly, if he’s sad to be at a stage in his life where he has to play “old people,” Caine said, “The only alternative to playing old people is playing dead people. I’ll pick elderly people. I have three grandchildren and I live for them. But also, I remember, I once read a script and I sent the script back [to the producer] saying the part was too small. He sent it back to me saying, ‘I did not want you to read the lover. I wanted you to read the father.’ And that’s when my career changed. I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to get the girl anymore. But I was going to get the part, and I really did get some parts.”
Since the film takes place in a remote spa in the Swiss alps, Caine spends large portions of the film wrapped in just a towel. The actor said he wasn’t bothered by the required nudity. “It didn’t matter to me because it’s the only body I’ve got,” he said, causing the press to giggle. “At least it was a reality. An aging body, to people who are not old, this is what’s going to happen to you. So don’t get too smart about it.”