December 21, 2007

REVIEW: Youth Without Youth (C-)

Background: Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II) returns to the director's chair for the first time in 10 years (his last time being for The Rainmaker). In his "time off" he has expanded his winery in Napa Valley (I remember driving by it quizzically) and served as executive producer on a wide variety of movies, from Jeepers Creepers to Kinsey. Youth Without Youth is adapted from Mircea Eliade's novella and was filmed in Eliade's home country of Romania. It stars Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) and Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall).

Synopsis: Dominic (Roth) is a 70-something professor in 1938, I think. His wife Veronica (Lara) died recently, so he sets off for Bucharest, I think. Walking across the street one day, Dominic is struck by lightning. During his recovery, doctors discover that his body has regressed to that of a 35 or 40 year old man. He grows new teeth and dark hair, and he remembers everything of his "previous" life. He also has a second soul, or a body double, or twin, or something, and he no longer ages. And he has super powers, like mind reading and speed reading. This new Dominic is wanted by the Nazis as a guinea pig for aging experimentation, and he lives in Switzerland in secrecy. At some point he meets Laura (Lara), a young woman who has also been struck by lightning. She appears to be channeling a 15th century Indian woman, and she is haunted by terrible nightmares. She also has strange bouts of panic, when she speaks in ancient languages that Dominic apparently understands. The two enjoy a tragic love affair when all of a sudden Laura begins to rapidly age, a consequence of being with Dominic, I think. Dominic leaves and goes on to live the rest of his life, but he's not aging. In 1970 he goes to his hometown and has a dreamy meeting in his old cafe, I think. But maybe it's all in his head, I'm not sure. Then he dies on the street, I think.

I Loved:
+ Much of the cinematography and Romanian cityscapes.

I Liked:
+ The old-school opening credits. You haven't seen that for about 30 years.

I Disliked:
- The mumbling dialogue that made a disorienting story even more mysterious.
- Matt Damon's awkwardly placed cameo.

I Hated:
- The frustrating plot.
- The guy in the theater who was shouting on his cellphone many, many times while walking around and propping his bare feet over the row in front of him.

Writing - 7
Acting - 8
Production - 5
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 4
Significance - 4

Total: 35/50= 70% = C-

Last Word: "I should have understood this from the beginning." So says Tim Roth's character Dominic toward the end of Youth Without Youth. Don't feel bad, Dominic. If you even know what year you're in then you've understood way more than the rest of us. Granted, there was an outrageously obnoxious person in the theater, but I can't blame their many distractions on my complete inability to follow what was happening in this movie. Francis Ford Coppola has made a beautiful mess. The cinematography is rich and reminds of you a dream, but so does the plot, and that's the problem. Were this a David Lynch film, I might "get it." But Francis Ford Coppola is known for adapting dense material ("The Godfather", "Heart of Darkness" as Apocalypse Now) into accessible films, and he shouldn't have taken on such a huge project for his return to the director's chair. His next film is Tetro, an original story about an Italian immigrant family. Sounds much more promising and hopefully simple enough to understand for those of us who aren't philosophy scholars.

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