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YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Andre M. Hennicke
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 13, 2008

“Time, Dominic. We are running out of time.”

Film **

Several of our most genius filmmakers had reputations for taking lengthy breaks in between projects. Terrence Malick and the late Stanley Kubrick come to mind immediately in that regard, but Francis Ford Coppola’s ten-year break following 1997’s The Rainmaker was most unexpected. So the idea of Coppola returning to camera after was a pretty big deal for me, as well as many other admirers of his.

And what can be concluded about Youth Without Youth is that Coppola has poured his heart and soul into the production. In addition to writing and directing, Coppola financed the film himself. Every frame of this is as lush and immense in dreamlike imagery, which reminded me a lot of the style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

However, what this film is seriously lacking is a story with any sort of coherence. Coppola’s intention, I’m sure, was to make something on an independent scale that would allow him to explore his artistic side in a way a studio project wouldn’t allow him to do. And I’m always open to filmmakers, especially the great ones like Coppola, going out of their way to make personal films. But other than himself, I’m not really sure who this film was made for in terms of an audience, and this is coming from a guy who really enjoyed Southland Tales.

Coppola’s screenplay, adapted from a novella by Mircea Eliade and set in 1938 Romania, involves a professor named Dominic (Tim Roth), who is at a ripe old age and pretty much not far away from death. While crossing the street one day, Dominic is struck by a bolt of lightning. Instead of dying from the impact, Dominic awakens in the hospital only to find an unexpected development…he now has the appearance of a man half his age.

Not too long after returning to society, Dominic has an unexpected encounter when he sees a woman emerging from a car crash. The woman, named Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), strangely resembles a love from Dominic’s past named Laura. Veronica admits to having a dual personality and, wouldn’t ya know it, turns out to have been struck by lightning as well, only she has gotten a reverse effect.

The story then delves into many different areas, thus adding even more incoherence to the proceedings. What is clear is that Dominic starts to fall for Veronica as a way of healing the hurt that remained from the ending of his relationship with Laura years ago. It’s the only thing that can be made clear in a film that tries to be a romance, a WWII spy movie, a time travel saga, a medical mystery and an examination of linguistics all at once.

If you’ve seen Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant and underrated The Fountain, then you’ve seen a similarly themed story done with much better execution. And that’s a film that had audiences divided. But the point is that movie has its audience, where as Youth Without Youth is so out there and indescribable that it will be lucky to find one, even if you worship the man behind the camera.

So while the film is exquisitely beautiful in colorful imagery and dreamlike atmosphere, Youth Without Youth is nothing more than a film that can only be appreciated by the person who made it. I can understand Coppola wanting to make something personal at this point in his career. But he should remember that there are so many who admire him and will go see anything he puts his name on, and in that regard a filmmaker should never go out of his way to please just him or herself.

BONUS: Matt Damon, who was also in Coppola’s previous film The Rainmaker, has a brief cameo.

Video ****

No matter how confused the film makes you, there’s absolutely no denying the amazing video quality displayed in this Sony release. The glorious anamorphic picture is detailed luxuriously from beginning to end, with nothing but a crisp, clear picture and tremendous color appearance being showcased. This presentation does a wonderful job at making this film something of a visual dreamlike experience.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix also accommodates this film quite nicely. At the heart of the presentation, you have the elegant music score by Osvaldo Golijov, which sounds nothing short of magnificent. And you get a number of scenes where the main character engages in strange conversations with himself, resulting in voices behind heard in unexpected channels. Nicely done.

Features ***

At the heart of this release is yet another wonderful commentary from the always engaging and informative Francis Ford Coppola, who opens up on why he did the film as well as every possible detail of the story, thus helping the viewer to better understand it. Also featured are three featurettes; “The Making of Youth Without Youth”, “The Music for Youth Without Youth” and “Youth Without Youth: The Makeup”. Lastly, there are End Credits (Coppola purposefully released the film with a 1940s style opening titles and no end credits) and bonus trailers for additional Sony releases including Redbelt, Sleuth and The Lives of Others.

Summary:

Though I was won over by the visual beauty of Youth Without Youth, I was also left confused and not very impressed with how the story was handled. I know Francis Ford Coppola has it in him to make 2 or 3 more great films, but he simply needs to keep his devoted audience in mind the next time he gets behind the camera.

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