By Leslie C. Halpern
A wealthy group of vacationers experiences various forms of rejuvenation at a luxurious spa in the Swiss Alps in this small film written and directed by Paulo Sorrentino.
Retired orchestra conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) doesn’t feel much of anything these days. The passion for his profession has waned over the years. He’s placed an emotional and physical distance between himself and his wife. Despite employing his daughter, Lena, (Rachel Weisz) as an assistant and bringing her with him to the spa resort, there’s still much left unsaid between them. Even his long-standing relationship with his best friend, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), seems superficial as they discuss only “good things.”
An Eclectic Mix of Guests
While Fred gets daily massages and doctor visits, Mick uses most of his time at the spa brainstorming with his team of writers about the next film he plans to direct. When Lena’s husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman, she takes out much of her rage on her father. Mick, whose son happens to be Lena’s philandering husband, apologizes for his progeny, but remains blameless in Lena’s eyes.
Meanwhile, she unloads years of disappointment, disgust and anger at Fred, who still manages to hang onto his apathy throughout most of the ordeal. Other characters, a conflicted actor (Paul Dano), a straight-talking older actress (Jane Fonda), and a glamorous beauty queen (Madalina Diana Ghenea) add to the eclectic mix searching for something inside the luxurious resort that they lost in the outside world.
Dream sequences, nature scenes, and gratuitous nudity are presented through artful photographic composition and soaring music that often trump the dialogue. By the end of their visit, most of these characters find whatever they need: new love, new work ethic, or new outlook on life.
Viewers won’t have any trouble figuring out what each guest receives because they very clearly tell us. Although much of the visual sophistication lies in framing and juxtaposition, the dialogue is far more mundane, a curious choice that grounds an otherwise ethereal production.
Set among an eclectic group of people vacationing at a spa resort in the Swiss Alps, this drama focuses on a retired orchestra conductor with repressed emotions, his daughter whose husband recently abandoned her, and his best friend who’s in pre-production for what may be his final film.
- Stars: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz, Alex Macqueen, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Paloma Faith, Jane Fonda
- Writer-Director: Paulo Sorrentino
- Genre: Drama
- Run Time: 124 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some sexuality, and language)