1938, Romania: at 70, a professor of language and philosophy, Dominic Matei, contemplates suicide: the love of his life is dead, and he remains unable to complete his life's work on the origins of language. Then, he's struck by lightning. After a slow recovery, he grows younger. He must now avoid Nazis, who want to study and experiment on him. Some years later, he meets a young woman who has her own passage through a lightning storm. Not only does Dominic find love again, but her new abilities hold the key to his research. Is the sweetness of life finally at hand? Written by
During the 1950s period of the movie, Laura is transported across India in an Indian C-130 Hercules but the aeroplane has RAF markings. Also, Laura and Dominic hail a taxi whilst in India and are picked up by a London black cab rather than an Indian Ambassador cab. See more »
certainly won't be one to show to all (some, frankly, will hate it). but it's challenging in ways filmmakers usually shy away from
It was bound to happen that Youth Without Youth, the first film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola in fifteen years (the first directed in ten), would be lauded by the critics for not being a real "comeback" kind of project. It's surreal, philosophical, mystical, and even has a mood about it that calls as a throwback to old romantic melodramas of the 40s and 50s (hence the opening titles). It's not even any kind of great film. It's pretentious in a few stretches, maybe more-so, and it takes a convoluted explanation that comes second in 2007 film only to Southland Tales for being more complex and bizarre. But unlike Kelly's film, Coppola at least has a hold on what he's doing, or what he's trying to accomplish. Coppola once said that art is all about taking riks, and to make films without risk is like sex without children.
In the grand scheme of things, at least with his career, Youth Without Youth seems to be slightly minor a risk when compared to the likes of Apocalypse Now or One From the Heart. But it's a risk that Coppola takes all the same, and through the intellectual thicket (which, contrary to some critics, isn't completely dense) there is some truly potent cinematic expression. So, the plot, the plot... A linguistics professor, Dominic (Tim Roth) is an old man when he gets struck by lightning in 1938, then proceeds to age back to 40 in recovery, only to then find that he's being watched- and planned for abduction- by Nazi scientists who want to use his newfound super-powers (mostly that he can, at times, harness powerful energy, as Dominic describes as "out of a science fiction novel"). This might be enough for a movie alone, but there's more- years later, a woman from Dominic's past (from before the lightning strike) appears again, also still apparently young, and she can talk in ancient languages, so then...
Yeah, I could go on with that. Suffice to say there's also talk about how this whole time-warp connects into the realm of consciousness itself, or what makes up knowledge or the pursuit of language, and all relating to time, leading up to an ending that flips around itself, all inspired by an old Chinese tale that goes around and around. What it means I still can't quite figure, and it at least shows Coppola won't spoon-feed any kind of easy ending (even the whole "it's only a dream" concept has some holes to fill, leaving ambiguity as something a little more logical). Frankly, I've never read any of the Mircea Eliade's writings, but there's a lot to it that strikes up references to other works. I couldn't help but think the plot, and its themes, were as though Philip K. Dick was forced to make a melodrama- on his own terms- from an unpublished book. Or that there was a connection to the Fountain, or even Dr. Who or something else. The comparisons are endless.
But what remains, at the end of trying to figure out what the hell Youth Without Youth will say as its ultimate message, is an original work, sincerely with the verve of a filmmaker who just says 'f*** it' and makes the movie he wants to make on his own terms (with, subsequently, his own money). If there is any risk to the project it's that Coppola gambles on narrative cohesion with elements like two Dominics following the lightning strike (one of which, of course, prods the other to complete his life's work as a "failure"), or the power of emotion with two people in love vs. the tremendous, daunting task of unlocking secrets of language and consciousness and what time even means. Couple this with technique that veers into the abstract, with upside down camera angles and upfront anti-Nazi imagery ala Indiana Jones, and a music that strikes up the most melancholy and precise of aforementioned melodrama, and it becomes the weirdest hybrid Coppola's ever made.
And yet, and yet, if Youth Without Youth is one thing above all else, it's, well... interesting. I never felt like getting up and even leaving to go to the bathroom much less leaving the film for good. I cared about Dominic and Veronica as I did the direction Coppola took the story (even if pretensions, particularly in the second half, seemed to loop into the equation). And Roth is, not to forget to mention, terrific in the role, seeming to understand where his character may (or may not) be headed as he continues with his research and finds that he is sort of doomed in time unless he goes down a certain path. He even gets to dig into a certain subdued humor underneath the skin of the picture, where a few times there's some laughs to be had at the expense of what's going on with Dominic, as though some old philosopher discovered a comic book and incorporated it into his character. It's a very strange movie experience, and not one I can easily recommend. But I do all the same, and Coppola fans will either like it or, as case is turning out, they wont.
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