It's impossible to view "Youth Without Youth" without considering that Francis Ford Coppola hasn't directed a film in ten years. It's an experience that splatters across the screen, handling more like the work of a man scraping the rust off his artistic pipes than a cinematic maestro orchestrating a voyage into the subconscious.
Dominic (Tim Roth) is an elderly fellow feeling the sting of a lost romance with Laura (Alexandra Maria Laura) in pre-WWII Europe. After surviving a lightning strike, Dominic finds his youth has been restored, leaving the linguistics professor with mental capabilities far beyond the limits of man. Now careful to hide his gifts, Dominic spends years crossing borders and feeding his mind. When he stumbles upon Veronica, Laura's doppelganger, he submits to love again, only to find Veronica has her own mysteries that Dominic is powerless to solve.
"Youth" is perhaps the most inescapably intimate epic I have ever seen. It's an elegant river of ambition from Coppola, who has poured his whole heart into this picture. Love it or hate it, "Youth" is undeniably exhilarating in the fashion it attacks the romance of the subconscious, weaving in and out of a foggy trance, erecting a narrative that's rebellious and vague, yet utterly enrapturing in its arrangement.
I'm caught somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of pleasure and pain derived from "Youth." As much esteem as it merits, it's an intensely dense story, requiring a monumental amount of specific intelligence to keep up with it. This is Coppola making a movie strictly for his own tastes, which is delightful to examine, but "Youth" suffers from severe fragmentation and an unpleasant itch to chase any idea that strolls into the filmmaker's head. When you consider the picture chases themes of reincarnation, the study of ancient languages, and sci-fi touches of accelerated education and other mental agility, the feature tires quickly. Unfortunately, quickly turns out to be right away.
Saving Coppola from his own whims is cinematographer Mihai Malamare, who depicts the vitality and widescreen lust of the picture with romanticized glow. Malamare chases the director through a host of film tributes (ranging from "Frankenstein" to "The Third Man"), dunking the film in mysterious shadows and affectionate colors, visually representing Dominic's shattered mind and longing for love. Shot with HD cameras, Coppola is the first filmmaker to create a filmless environment that is thick with emotion and experimentation without appearing clunky and cut-rate.
"Youth Without Youth" is a feature of extreme impenetrability, both to enjoy and to interpret. I can't quite recommend the film to the average moviegoer, and even those art-house daredevils out there might find the experience much too twisted to embrace; however, Francis Ford Coppola is making movies again, and that's reason enough to rejoice. Even if it ends up a baffling intellectual riff, "Youth Without Youth" still resonates deeply in ways younger filmmakers would never even dare consider.
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