January 10, 2008

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Youth Without Youth (R)
Tim Roth stars in the time-traveling (sort of) Youth Without Youth, a crazy, wandering what-the-hell of a movie by Francis Ford Coppola.

When the movie begins, Dominic (Roth) is an old man, a professor of philosophy and language and God knows what else. Near the movie’s opening, he’s struck by lightning and ends up in a hospital where he heals into a man about half the age he was before. He’s taken care of by another doctor, ends up followed by Nazis and seduced by a particularly comely Nazi. He goes on the lam, eventually running in to Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who is identical to the woman with whom he was engaged back when he was young the first time. She is also struck by lightning and her transformation suggests reincarnation more than regeneration and she reawakens in Dominic his desire to find the “first” human language, the first example of expression and knowledge.

And then some other stuff happens and he’s back in Romania, where the movie started.

Sorry — “some other stuff” is about as succinct as I can make a plot that winds through a phase in which Dominic holds lengthy conversations with a separate smirking version of himself, some of which are about whether Dominic can change the course of Veronica’s transformation (she’s looking older as she channels earlier and earlier civilizations in human history). If David Lynch decided to make a noir-y love story with 1950s visuals, it might look something like this (though it might also have giant talking rabbits ).

Youth Without Youth more or less stops working as a linear story where things happen and characters develop and acts more like a gauzy collection of set pieces with some puzzle in each scene that we might or might not figure out. Some of the scenes are quite interesting — a chunk of the movie is set in Malta and, if nothing else, it’s beautifully shot — and some are just jumbled and confusing. (Just who the heck is that Dominic double? Is he Dominic’s delusion or some real — “real” — part of Dominic that has split off?)

For all of its loonyness, Youth Without Youth still has bits of Coppola touches — gestures from old men, looks between characters and quiet scenes of people left alone with their thoughts. Of all Coppola’s films, I’m the most familiar with The Godfather and its sequels. In these flourishes in Youth Without Youth, I could see Coppola’s Coppolaness, giving much appreciated texture that offers something intriguing even to the most otherwise opaque scenes. (There are also moments of exaggerated stageyness that, I don’t know, are they purposeful? Do they have some greater meaning? Was Coppola just running out of film and thought he’d fix it all in editing?)

I’ve heard other critics describe this movie as “dreamlike.” With its choppy melding of eras and places and people, I agree. And like any dream, once it was over, I wasn’t completely sure of what I’d just witnessed. C

Rated R for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (from a novel by Mircea Eliade), Youth Without Youth is two hours and four minutes long and is distributed in extremely limited release by Sony Pictures.