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Youth Without Youth

“Youth Without Youth,” a prosaic title for a film of remarkable imagination, marks Coppola’s return behind the director’s chair after a decade, a complete change from his signature “Godfather” trilogy and from his “Peggy Sue Got Married,” though it perhaps shares some symbiosis with “Apocalypse Now.” Coppola plays around with genres, referencing the Mummy movies, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (about a man who keeps his youthful good looks while a special portrait reveals his inner corruption), and “The Makropoulos Case” (an opera by Janácek about a woman who searches for the magic document that has prolonged her life for 300 years, longing for death). The entire picture, filmed in Romania with a small segment in Bulgaria, all standing in for those countries, Switzerland, Malta and India, has a heavily European ambience. While the novella stresses the psychological thriller of a man seeking to escape the Nazis who want him in order to further their research into preserving life, the film deals with the conflict between love and knowledge. Before the seventy-year-old Dominic Matei is struck by lightning, he had still been mourning the breakup of his engagement to Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara) forty years earlier (shown in sepia flashback by photographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.), a woman who considered him remote, too lost in scholarship to provide for her human needs. Now rejuvenated to age forty, he is pursued by Nazis, sent to a “Woman in Room 6” (Alexandra Pirici) to seduce him to gain further information for her Gestapo boss. As though he is not confused enough, a ghostly double forms, a Mr. Hyde representing his cold, scientific side, one who wants Dominic to continue pursuing knowledge at all costs even if that struggle means giving up a normal life of love and fun and emotion and movies like “Superbad.” After escaping to Switzerland, he is now in the year 1955, meets Veronica, a dead ringer for his lost Laura, who whimpers in a cave after a car accident, speaking only Sanskrit—perhaps the key to Matei’s finishing the magnum opus which he never got to finish on the origin of language. As romance between the two develops and she proceeds to speak Sanskrit, then goes further back to Sumerian and Babylonian and even some cri de coeur that may have come from Stone Age woman, something happens that requires Matei to make a fateful decision. The film is not likely to drive box office records like any of the “Godfather” trilogy, given the stilted dialogue, the English dubbing of the European actors, and mostly the talking-heads format which replaces physical action in so many scenes. Still Tim Roth is always a pleasure to watch, and you’ve got to give Mr. Coppola credit for avoiding anything resembling a cut-and-paste Hollywood job. This is a film that takes risks, one that may have an audience wondering whether the whole idea represents Matei’s dream from his being lit-up by lightning or whether he truly undergoes a unique, supernatural experience. The answer: irrelevant. What’s important is that “Youth Without Youth takes us on an intellectual, philosophic journey, too wordy to be sure, with enough transcendent moments to keep us involved and anticipate what the director has in mind on his next project, “Tetro,” which follows the rivalries of an artistic immigrant Italian family.

No screenings currently scheduled.

Directed by: 
Francis Ford Coppola
Running Time: 
Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Andre Hennicke
Screenplay by: 
Francis Ford Coppola based on a novella by Mircea Eliade

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