Friday, September 25, 2009

DVD Review: Youth Without Youth

Francis Coppola’s Youth Without Youth (from the story by Mircea Eliade) is a deeply personal film for the filmmaker. He’s stated in numerous interviews that when he was made aware of the story about a 70 year old Romanian linguist who is struck by lighting and ages backwards, that he felt he was made to make this story into a movie. Sounds odd, right? Well Dominic (Tim Roth) is struggling to complete his life work, and considers suicide. However, things change when he is struck by lighting and begins to age backwards. He has another chance to finish his life work (a book about the origin of language). This second chance at finishing a close-to-the-heart project appealed to Coppola because he often stated that at 68 he felt like he had been successful with his business (wine maker), but still felt unfulfilled creatively. Youth Without Youth shows Coppola returning after a 10 year sabbatical with a vim that can only be found in his earlier work.

The last film of Coppola’s oeuvre where I felt this kind of visual exhilaration was his take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In fact that film reminded me a lot of Youth Without Youth (and a lot of other Coppola movies) where you could easily watch the film with sound off and get the same enjoyment. The problem, however, is that Dracula was based on a classic horror story and had the safety net of mythology for Coppola’s garish visuals to fall into.

In Youth Without Youth his screenplay is a murky mess of metaphysics, doppelgängers, and a failed love story; however, in spite of the written material the films star, Tim Roth (who spends a lot of the movie talking to himself), is fantastic as Dominic. The dilemma he faces towards the end of the film is an interesting one: he meets a German woman who resembles his lost love from his youth....she has also been struck by lighting, and in an interesting development has begun to linguistically age backwards as she begins speaking in ancient languages that help Dominic understand more clearly the elusive nature of his life’s work. The dilemma of course is that Dominic is in love with this woman and must decide if that’s more important than finishing his life work. It doesn’t help that Dominic’s evil doppelgänger is around whispering in his ear throughout the film. One again…sounds odd doesn’t it?

The film is a must see for its visuals alone. It appears this material has awoken a sleeping giant in Coppola. His film is interesting if nothing else because it shows us what kind of story a director can tell through nothing but beautifully framed and constructed visuals. Coppola has always been at the forefront of new ways to visually tell a story, and in Youth Without Youth it doesn’t appear that he’s all the way back (the film meanders despite its reverie-like mood and visual approach), but he’s pretty damn close considering the material he left us with 10 years ago. Youth Without Youth is one of the best looking films of 2007, and for that alone its worth seeking out and devouring beautiful scene after beautiful scene.

I realize I haven’t said much about the movie…well there’s not much to say because I was so damned confused by the story; however, I didn’t care, and I as I mentioned in this mini-review, the visuals move the story along. So, I figured I would let the visuals do all of the talking for me:


  1. I remember the reviews on this being quite mixed when it came out, but wow, those screencaps really make it look interesting.

    It's sad that the two films prior to this were The Rainmaker and Jack. Perhaps Francis just needed the time and money to make his wine.

    Curious, did you see Tetro? It seemed to be getting the same kind of comments that Youth Without Youth got (neat visuals, meandering plot, somewhat incoherent).

  2. I haven't seen Tetro, yet. It's playing at Salem Cinema soon, though...we should go see it. This movie is definitely worth seeing for the visuals alone. And if you can understand the story...that's a bonus! It's a movie that lingers in your memory.

  3. From your images, it looks like the film is heavily influenced by my very favorite film, The Conformist. Am I on the right track?

  4. Tony:

    You're absolutely on the right track. After about the 30 minute mark in the movie Coppola gets a lot more playful with his aesthetic, and when that started happening I immediately thought of The Conformist. Especially the image of the woman dancing...

    Like much of Bertolucci's work, Youth Without Youth's imagery lingers in your mind (I almost want use the too-strong phrase "they haunt you", but I'll refrain) for days after you watch it. It's one of the most beautiful looking films Coppola has made. I hope you give it a shot.

  5. Still haven't seen this one. Need to rent it soon. Sounds like you're right that it's similar to Tetro. On many levels Tetro seemed strangely epic, yet small and personal. And while the story was interesting, it was a bit all over the place, but the visuals were pretty great. It seems that his collaboration with Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who also shot Youth Without Youth is a good one.

  6. Kyle:

    Thanks for commenting. Good to have ya around the blog. Do people at AFI like Coppola's new stuff? I'd be curious to know what you think of this when you get around to seeing it. You're about Coppola's recent collaboration with Malaimare Jr. This film is gorgeous. I can't get the visuals out of my head, and I can't stop praising the look of this film.

  7. It was a great film visually, but Coppola seemed to fail to translate what he found meaningful in Eliade's story into something equally meaningful to the audience. I found it an admirable failure of the sort that keeps me interested in seeing Tetro when it hits the local art house or appears on DVD

  8. Samuel:

    I completely agree. I only knew the film was personal because I researched the movie after I watched it; and, as you point out, that's a problem. However, I think that the visuals make a good case for how much this story meant to Coppola. I've never found him to be the greatest screenwriter, so the awful words of dialogue his characters are given here is forgivable...but like you I couldn't get past the confusion and the fact that Coppola seemed to totally love the story, but not enough to pay more attention to the details so it made so semblance of sense.

    It seems like Coppola is back, though, and like you I am excited to see Tetro and whatever else may follow. It's good to have him back making movies.

  9. I would most certainly declare that Coppola has found his footing again- and is here to stay. He did admit that Youth Without Youth was "totally unorthodox, in structure and intention", but then added that "it was what I wanted to do." It cleared the way for him to write an original screenplay with Tetro.

    Though I wasn't sure what to think during the tedious first half hour of Youth Without Youth, all was forgiven when the film really started to kick up after that. The romance between Roth and the girl is a lot like the relationship between Redmond Barry and Lady Lyndon; it isn't much developed, no, but that is because nature intervenes and gets in the way of things.

    Myself, I find Youth Without Youth to be one of the most absorbing films of the decade. I can't wait to see it again, and I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.

  10. Adam:

    We're in agreement here...Coppola is back in a big way. I agree with you too about the first 30 minutes.

    My problems weren't so much with the romance or whether or not it was or wasn't cheesy; my problem was with the meandering "narration" which was really just Roth talking to himself. Roth did a great job with the material given, but by the end of the film I was really just on the edge of my seat wondering what Coppola was going to visually pull off next.

    I'm curious about Eliade's story, though. He's one of my favorite authors on the topic of religion, and I would love to see if the metaphysical plot makes more sense on the page, where you can underlines a passage and stop to think about it.

  11. "In Youth Without Youth his screenplay is a murky mess of metaphysics, doppelgängers, and a failed love story"

    Indeed Kevin. Despite the fact that the film is visually fascinating, (and your screen caps certainly showcase this) I would have to agree that this was a misfire. Yet, it may well be worth a view because of those visuals, much like his earlier BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, which was another sumptuous compositional masterwork with narrative issues. TETRO is much stronger than YOUTH, and despite what I saw as a bad performance by Vincent Gallo, the film was stylistically dazzling. And to boot it thematically made excellent use of Offenbach's THE TALES OF HOFFMAN. Most excellent capsule here, beautifully layed out.

  12. Sam:

    I thought of Coppola's Dracula a lot during this film. I am eager to see Tetro even though I can't stand Gallo. Thanks as always for the kind words and for linking to this at your site.

  13. I agree with Sam: nice job. Gonna have to see this one. I liked his Dracula, narrative issues or no.

  14. Thanks, Rick. It's definitely worth checking out. Always good to have you stop by.

  15. Great Reviews ! I am impressed and can't wait for more days. Going to see it tonight. Thank you very much !