Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are a beguiling double act as two bickering elderly friends staying at a grand Swiss spa hotel in Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, a tender, bittersweet meditation on ageing, friendship, fame, artistic creation and a host of other themes.

Caine’s retired composer, Fred Ballinger, is being badgered by a Buckingham Palace emissary, who wants him to conduct a performance of his most famous work, ‘Simple Songs’, in a concert before the Queen. Keitel’s veteran Hollywood director Mick Boyle, meanwhile, is planning what he intends to be his final film, set to star his long-time muse Brenda (Jane Fonda).

Fred’s daughter and assistant Lena (Rachel Weisz) is also on hand, in turmoil over her husband’s dalliance with a pop star (an odd but game cameo by Paloma Faith), as is a famous film star (Paul Dano), preparing for his next role and peeved that everyone associates him with a film in which he played a robot.

Very little happens. The film’s mannered look is stylish to the point of artificiality and the tempo is as measured as the hotel’s unruffled staff. This clearly won’t appeal to everyone, but delve beneath the surface and there’s heart and humour here; and the actors are terrific.

Certificate15. Runtime 119 mins. Director Paolo Sorrentino

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