What would you do for a chance to double your life span? If you could be thirty for decades, would you do it? What if you didn't ask for such a gift, but were given one anyway? And perhaps it's not just eternal youth, but an ever-expanding intellect, unrivaled by any other mind on this earth? What would something like that be worth? Would you kill for the opportunity? And if not you, what about those around you? How safe could you be if the assorted world governments decided that your secret was worth having, no matter what the cost to them--or to you?
Such is the fate of Dominic (Tim Roth), an intellectual nearing the end of his life in pre-World War II Poland. A victim of a lightning strike, Dominic suddenly finds that he is a young man again. Not only that, but he's smarter than he was before, and learning more all the time. The blessings come at a price--Dominic now finds that his mind has segmented into multiple personalities, and at times he has trouble discerning dream from reality. He finds himself wanted by the Nazis, who would like to use him as a basis for the new master race. But he learns how to go into hiding, and doesn't come out again until he meets Veronica (Alexandra Maria Laura), a dead ringer for his lost love Laura. But he finds that she has her own special set of circumstances that even Dominic, with all of his abilities, may not be able to deal with.
Francis Ford Coppola hasn't made a film since the leaden Rainmaker in 1997. Before that, it was the pathetically sappy Robin Williams tear-jerker Jack. And, for those in the know, he did some work to "fix" the sci-fi flop Supernova for MGM in 2000. The point is, Coppola hasn't worked on anything of value since Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992. Luckily, Youth Without Youth feels like a spiritual successor to Dracula, with heavy stylization and themes of eternal youth and love.
Despite helming some of the greatest Hollywood productions of all time, Francis Ford Coppola has always had a healthy love for the more obtuse areas of film. While he was able to indulge his arty side with Dracula, Youth Without Youth takes these inclinations even further. The story itself is incredibly internal. Most of the picture revolves around Dominic cogitating on what he's seeing around him. Aside from Laura and Veronica, almost all the other characters seem like set dressing. The one big exception is the doctor, played by Bruno Ganz, who nurses Dominic back to health after the lightning strike.
Tim Roth gives a bravura performance as Dominic. He's in pretty much every scene of the film, sometimes in makeup, often with different hair styles or period clothing. It must have been physically exhausting, and splitting himself between the different personalities must have been mentally draining. In an interview shot during the post production of the film, Roth called the shoot one of the hardest of his life (whether or not this was before or after he shot Funny Games I do not know). But he does a fantastic job, keeping Dominic empathetic, even when he dives into the most eclectic academic subjects.
Coppola feels revitalized, freely indulging in his every whim. This, along with the film's time-spanning plot, gives Youth Without Youth a disjointed feel. At times, such as the dialogue between Dominic and his other half, Coppola uses this to his advantage, skewing the style to match the content. But he draws from all different kinds of film, from classics to much more recent fare. It's not always successful, but it is always interesting, which is more than one could say about Coppola's output since 1992.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Sony presents Youth Without Youth in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. Shot with high definition cameras, Youth Without Youth frequently offers a striking image that shows off how great Blu-ray can be. The daylight scenes and close-ups are fantastic. There's a ton of detail, and the image is razor-sharp. A few of the darker scenes suffer from murky black levels, which is a result of the cameras used to shoot the picture. Overall, this is a very impressive transfer.
Sony offers a lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 track that absolutely delivers. For a film that is so intensely internal, there's a lot to this mix. The lightning bolt packs a real punch, as do the scenes with the Nazis. The sumptuous score fills the soundstage, with great fidelity and range. Dialogue, even from the European cast, was not hard to discern, and I heard no hint of distortion at any point.
- Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola: Coppola made Youth Without Youth to please himself, and from the sound of it, he recorded this commentary for the same purpose. There's a lot of talk about the original writings that inspired the film, and then a lot of ruminations on philosophy and the concepts in the picture. Clearly these ideas mean a lot to Coppola, but it does make this commentary a little difficult to wade through.
- The Making of Youth Without Youth: A useless piece of fluff where everyone congratulates everyone else for being a part of such a great project.
- The Music for Youth Without Youth: A thirty minute fly on the wall documentary that goes into intense detail on the scoring of the film. A lot of footage of Coppola commenting on his surroundings, and some interesting discussion of how the music is different than the typical film score.
- Youth Without Youth - The Makeup: Twenty minutes of the old age makeup Roth wears. There's actually quite a lot of footage of Roth without makeup discussing the film with Coppola on the set, making this the most interesting of all the extra features.
- End Credits: The film ends without any credits, but they're presented here.
Youth Without Youth is the first Francis Ford Coppola film worth seeing since Dracula. While it's not perfect, Tim Roth's impassioned performance, and Coppola's revitalized sense of experimentalism make for an outing that is always interesting. The sound and image quality are both top notch. And even though the supplemental package is less impressive than the film deserves, on the whole, this is a Blu-ray worth seeing. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.