Youth Without Youth
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, André Hennicke. (2007, R, 124 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 29, 2008
Once upon a time, I thought the 1996 movie Jack was about as low as Coppola's film-directing career could ever sink. Now that I have seen Youth Without Youth, I believe I may have spoken too soon. Unlike Youth, Jack at least wants to entertain us. And, come to think of it, Jack's story, which features Robin Williams as a boy who ages four times faster than normal, is not too unlike the plot of Youth, in which Roth plays an aged linguist who grows rapidly younger after being struck by a lightning bolt. However, where Jack was insufferably cloying (in that Williams-doing-drama sort of way), Youth Without Youth is solipsistic and close to impenetrable. Coppola adapted the story himself from a novella by Romanian author Mircea Eliade, and though the story appears to have deep meaning for Coppola, he has done little to share that meaning with the audience. The movie is Coppola's comeback after an absence of 10 years, his first film since 1997's The Rainmaker, his adaptation of a popular John Grisham legal thriller. And though we're happy to welcome Coppola back in from the vineyards, the master filmmaker in the interim seems to have either lost the desire or forgotten how to entertain the public. Filmed in Romania and handsomely mounted, Youth Without Youth is full of flourish, Old World decor, and intricate camerawork, but these touches are not enough to involve us in its dry and rather preposterous story. The restoration of the youth of Dominic Matei (Roth) occurs around the time of World War II. Nazi scientists of course want to probe the phenomenon and force Dominic into exile. During this time he rediscovers the love of his youth (Lara, recently seen in Control), but she soon falls ill and begins regressing and speaking in ancient Sanskrit and Babylonian – no doubt due to some kind of fallout from Dominic's linguistic research. Coppola never manages to get his themes to coalesce into anything terribly coherent. But the greater sin is Coppola's dull, tableauxlike staging, in which even the totally committed Roth seems to have more value as a piece of set design than as our dramatic interlocutor. Yes, Coppola is back, and now that he's made this movie to satisfy himself, maybe he'll next make a movie for the rest of us.