Youth Without Youth
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Francis Ford Coppola
with Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Marcel Iures, Alexandra Pirici, Matt Damon, Adrian Pintea, André Hennicke, Anamaria Marinca, Florin Piersic Jr, Zoltan Butuc, Adriana Titieni
release UK/US 14.Dec.07
07/Romania Zoetrope 2h04
Youth Without Youth
Poking and prodding: Roth

roth ganz coppola
Youth Without Youth After a decade's break, Coppola returns to the director's chair with this oddball Euro-drama, which swirls love, science and time into a sprawling story that's far too bookish and strange to fully engage us. But it looks terrific.

In 1938 Bucharest, 70-year-old Dominic (Roth) is struck by lightning and, during recovery, mysteriously regains his youth. This gives him a second chance at completing his life's work looking into how language and time affect human society, or something like that. But his miraculous condition catches the eye of a Nazi medical researcher (Hennicke), so his doctor (Ganz) helps him escape to Switzerland. There he meets Veronica (Lara), who reminds him of his lost love, and after an experience with lightning herself, suddenly starts speaking in Sanskrit. Maybe she's the key to his project.

Everything about the film is so wilfully strange that it's completely alienating. We're never quite sure what's going on, which leaves us to just enjoy the striking visuals and both Roth's and Lara's absorbing performances. Although without knowing what it's all supposed to mean, it feels somewhat hollow. Fortunately, Coppola knows his way around a film script, so he loads the movie with images and ideas that are thoroughly engaging even if we can't fully understand them.

From the kaleidoscopic opening sequence to the finale three decades later, the film is a collage of surreal scenes, with images of clocks, faces, bodies and writings that symbolise the passage of time and the power of memory, sex and language. Dream sequences run backwards, sideways and upside-down, adding to the generally freaky tone. Meanwhile, Dominic's voracious yearning for knowledge is fascinating, and Roth performs the role with complete physicality, from age 70 to 35 and back again.

When Dominic starts experimenting with an invented language and mind control, rather than go for something emotionally dramatic or adventurous, the film gets even more academic. And when he becomes obsessed with ushering Veronica back to the dawn of language itself, the whole film begins to disappear up its own backside. It's consistently amazing to look at but, honestly, what's it going on about? And do we care?

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 10.Oct.07

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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall