CANNES, France (AP) — The aging stars of “Youth” are slowly rousing the morning after a late night in Cannes celebrating the premiere of Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film.
“Private Micklewhite! Private Micklewhite!” Harvey Keitel shouts across the rooftop veranda to his co-star.
“Good morning, sir!” comes the chipper reply of Michael Caine, standing to attention at the call of his surname by birth.
Keitel, 76, is lounging behind shades with his 11-year-old son, Roman, under his arm. He is reveling in being back at the Cannes Film Festival, where he has starred in three Palme d’Or winners (“Taxi Driver,” ”The Piano,” ”Pulp Fiction”) and been fired from a fourth (“Apocalypse Now”). His memory, though, is foggy.
“Was ‘Pulp Fiction’ here?” he wonders. “If they were here, then I was here. But maybe not. Gimme your phone!”
Keitel is an eager storyteller, but his natural orientation is forward-looking. Throughout his career he’s chased vibrant new directing talent, from Jane Champion to Quentin Tarantino, Abel Ferrara to Ari Folman.
That’s also what led him to Sorrentino. After seeing the Italian director’s “Il Divo” and his Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty,” he told his agent to get him a part in “Youth.”
“He changed the playing field for me with (‘The Great Beauty’) so I wanted to work with him, the way any disciplinarian of the arts would want to work for any master,” says Keitel. “I’ll be damned if I don’t think Paolo makes certain things go together that no one has made go together before.”
“Youth” is about a retired composer (Caine) staying at a remote Swiss spa where his old friend, a film director (Keitel), is trying to finish a new screenplay. Others are there, too — the composer’s daughter (Rachel Weisz), a young actor (Paul Dano) — but the heart of the film, at turns tender and comic, is the friendship between the two men as they wistfully contemplate the end of their lives and their careers in the arts.
Keitel is fond of quoting Frank Sinatra (“Regrets, I’ve had a few”) but exhibits little disappointment with his acting life.
“In the arts, it’s such a gift to the world that we create cavemen on the wall,” says Keitel. “And I’m one of those cavemen on the wall trying to learn about the fear and the necessity of the hunt.”
Keitel’s zeal for the hunt has spanned nearly five decades with curiously little diminishment in skill and a remarkably persistent appetite for new territory.
Keitel’s path has rarely stuck to the mainstream, instead hopscotching among vibrantly gritty performances of menace (Mr. White of “Reservoir Dogs”), melancholy (the cigar shop owner of “Smoke”) and moral struggle (the aspiring mobster of “Mean Streets”).
“I do this because I learn from it,” Keitel says, smiling beneath the rising Cannes sun. “I do movies because I learn from being an actor about life. Sitting here with you now, I’m learning things about life, as I did yesterday.”
“So I said to myself, ‘My goodness, we’re always youthful in some sense,'” he continues. “We’re always learning something. Even in death, we’ll learn death. But you shouldn’t afraid of it because I’m going to come back and tell you about it.”
But before the ghost of Keitel comes for us, life still beckons.
“Look at us! What’s not to enjoy,” says Keitel, waving at the surrounding French Riviera splendor. “Even the croissants this morning … you can’t get those in New York.”
Roman pipes up. “You ate eight!”
Keitel protests. “I think it was five.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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