(2015; English, Spanish, Swiss German) In his capacity with ceremonies and events at Buckingham Palace, an emissary from the British monarch comes to offer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a retired composer and conductor (24 years with the Venice Orchestra) as he's vacationing at an exclusive hotel in the Swiss Alps, as has been his habit for the past two decades, an investiture of knighthood by the Queen if he would but conduct a concert for Prince Philip on his birthday in June. "I don't conduct anymore," Fred replies. Further, the maestro says emphatically: "I will not conduct my Simple Songs."
Dreaming, Fred cries out his wife's name, "Melanie!" in a nightmare. Preparing for his next movie role, commenting on his having worked for a number of great filmmakers, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) remarks to Fred on their mutual problem of both having once submitted to a moment of levity, his being the robot Mr Q: "The same way they remind you that you did those Simple Songs. And they forget that you also composed The Black Prism, The Life of Hatred, and all the rest."
Fred, who knew in his youth Igor Stravinsky (a "placid" man who believed that "intellectuals have no taste"), says as acknowledgement: "Because levity is also a perversion." Director/writer Paolo Sorrentino's profound perversion, putting me in mind of The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Magic Mountain at times, with the impossible, immoral desire that makes us alive, like levitation or levity, has the love needed to see us through.
On the grounds of the resort, where celebrities such as the obesely famous Pelé come to holiday, naked bodies appear in swimming pools and saunas. The Retrosettes Sister Band along with Sun Kil Moon, David Byrne, Mark Kozelek, Bill Callahan, Sumi Jo, and others sing on the soundtrack.
Sharing a 60-year friendship and prostate worries, film director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and Fred compare occurrences of urination. Of his new movie project, Mick declares: "It's going to be a masterpiece. My testament…. Life's Last Day." Lena (Rachel Weisz) arranges for a schedule of massages, sauna, doctor's examination, etc for her apathetic father to get back in shape while she and her husband Julian Boyle depart on a Polynesia trip.
"Do you remember Gilda Black?" Fred asks Mick of the girl with whom they were both in love six decades ago: "I would have given twenty years of my life to have slept with her." Mick replies to Fred's inquiry if he'd slept with her: "The real tragedy, and believe me, it really is a tragedy, is that I can't even remember if I slept with Gilda Black."
After imagining he's conducting cows in a pasture, Fred finds Lena crying out her eyes in their room before confronting Mick: "Your son has left my daughter." Julian (Ed Stoppard) admits to his father and Fred wanting to divorce Lena for popstar singer Paloma Faith (herself). Later Lena demands from her father: "I want to know what he said. What the fuck does this bitch have that, at least according to Julian, that I don't?" After initially dissembling, Fred finally answers honestly: "He said - she was good in bed." "You didn't have to tell me that."
In the room they share together, sleeping in separate beds, Lena expresses her anger toward her dad for never understanding her or anyone else: "You gave everything to your music," nothing to her or her mother. She tells him of having read the letter he'd written of his sexual experimentation. Lena wakes screaming from a music-video nightmare of Paloma.
Fred and Mick bet on whether or not a silent couple from South America will speak at their table each evening while dining. Coincidentally, Fred comes across a boy practicing playing violin with his "Simple Song #3," which he corrects the left-handed elbow position. The exasperated British emissary returns to plead again with the maestro. Ballinger adamantly refuses again for "personal reasons."
As she's looking through a Galaxy tele-lens, Mick says to his female screenwriter: "Now listen. Do you see that mountain over there?" She says: "Yeah, it seems really close." "Exactly," agrees Mick: "This is what you see when you're young. Everything seems really close. That's the future. And now …," he turns the tele-lens around: "And that's what you see when you're old. Everything seems really far away. That's the past."
Luca Moroder introduces himself to Lena as the hotel's mountain-climbing instructor; she's fearful of heights. Wearing a Nazi uniform, looking like Hitler, Jimmy reads Novalis, philosopher of early German romanticism, who wrote: "Philosophy is properly homesickness; the wish to be everywhere at home."
Boyle ("fiction is our passion") and his crew of screenwriters search for an ending, the death-bed scene, to the movie script. Relaxing alone together in a warm pool, Mick and Fred watch transfixed as a completely naked woman enters the water, seemingly oblivious of the two men. To Fred's question as to who she is, Mick whispers: Joyce Owens, Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea).
Interrupting their moment of idyll (for which either might give twenty years of his life?), Boyle receives word that his actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) has arrived, waiting to see him. "I'm not going to be in the movie, Mick," announces Brenda, knowing that without her in the film it won't get made, in a frank exchange of insults and recriminations. "C'mon, life goes on even without that cinema bullshit," Brenda says spitefully, moving on to appear in a tv series in Mexico.
He imagines the 50 actresses in costume who've been in his movies reciting their lines on a hillside. In an effort to recapture his singular "bicycle moment," Mick takes a prostitute's hand for a stroll at night. Disputing Fred's remark that "emotions are overrated," Mick avers: "Emotions are all we've got."
"So I've grown old," says Fred to the physician, "without understanding how I got here." The doctor asks: "Do you know what awaits you outside of here?" "No," answers Fred: "What?" "Youth."
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