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With: Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, André Hennicke, Marcel Iures, Adrian Pintea, Alexandra Pirici, Florin Piersic Jr., Zoltan Butuc, Adriana Titieni
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, based on a novella by Mircea Eliade
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image
Running Time: 124
Date: 10/20/2007

Youth Without Youth (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Young Piercing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A lot rides on Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola's twentieth feature film and his first after a ten-year absence from the director's chair. His last film was The Rainmaker (1997), an above average John Grisham thriller iced with good performances, although it was an unremarkable film for a man who once earned comparisons with a wunderkind like Orson Welles. I wish I could report that Youth Without Youth is a "comeback" of immense proportions and that Coppola had restored himself as a kind of genius auteur, but the film is far more difficult than that. In some ways, it's as unremarkable as The Rainmaker, but in other ways, it's far too astonishing and complex to be easily dismissed.

Tim Roth stars as Dominic Matei, an aged scholar circa 1938 who has devoted his life to learning the origins of language. He decides to kill himself, but is instead struck by lightning. This somehow restores his body to that of a 40 year-old man, including a new set of teeth! Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz) wishes to study Dominic's condition, but also realizes the danger of letting the Nazis get their mitts on him. Meanwhile, Dominic assumes a new identity and continues his studies. He often speaks to a doppelganger, a mirror image of himself that dispenses advice. But he also discovers that he has supernatural powers, such as the facility to read, write and understand multiple languages, and to absorb an entire book in just seconds. Years later, Dominic runs into Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), the exact double of his old, lost true love Laura. But before he can make his move, she gets into a car accident and begins channeling a 17th century Indian woman. Dominic and Veronica fall in love but Veronica continues to regress into the past, speaking all manner of ancient languages.

The ending is a bit more existential and is open to interpretation. It's clear that Coppola is playing with certain themes, most obviously doubling and mirror images. Dominic is often seen as two, and his true love appears in two forms. Even the title has the double word "youth." It could be said that a person has two "selves," a younger self and an older self, and that Coppola is reconciling the distance between the two.

But it's difficult to reconcile the film's overwhelming coldness and its troubling narrative leaps and bounds; we believe, perhaps, that a man can revert to a youthful body, and that eventually he'll meet the double of his true love, but it's perhaps too big of a stretch to bring in the language thing. The film does grow less and less logically structured as it goes on, so maybe the coincidence is nothing. Here's what I do know: like Welles, Coppola's less-appreciated films tend to improve over time and multiple viewings. But at the same time, I'm not sure I want to see Youth Without Youth again. Recalling it now, I think of a film lacking in energy, pulse and life-blood. But I have too much respect for Coppola to let that stop me. Perhaps a few more years will do the trick, when I'm older and wiser.

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