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.
Thankfully, the achingly beautiful cinematography has been preserved in this anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) DVD. While the limits of the HD cameras are noticed, the rest of the presentation is strikingly vivid, with solid black levels and luxurious detail, enhanced by the film's warm, dreamy haze. A lovely visual experience.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is nearly as lush as the visual experience. All it really takes is a moment with Osvaldo Golijov's passionate score to fill the senses, and the rest of the track follows suit with precise sound effect detail and sharp dialogue reproduction, which is required during the thicker moments of the script. A French audio track is also included.
English and French subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola is a typical informative gem from the filmmaker. A natural storyteller, Coppola is at ease exploring the esoteric leanings of his film, sharing with the listener his intention to challenge convention and himself with this strange picture.
Here Coppola discusses the spiritual angles of the story; his disgust with modern-day title sequences; the history behind the film's many eras; the intent of novella writer Mircea Eliade; his preference to use real cuisine over bland prop food; the professional generosity of Matt Damon; and the overwhelming linguistic research and painstaking execution. There is a fair amount of the dreaded "play-by-play" commentary style here, but with a film this exhausting and rich with subtext, any nugget of clarity is a gift.
As always, Coppola is a welcome, generous, and comforting companion.
"The Making of 'Youth Without Youth'" (8 minutes) is a short, but enlightening collection of BTS footage and production interviews. Obviously, most extol the wonders of working with Coppola and herald the experimental nature of the film, but there are some intriguing ideas on personal vision and performance complexity to snack on as well.
"The Music for 'Youth Without Youth'" (26 minutes) is a must-see for any fan of big screen scoring, revealing the grueling artistic process behind motion picture music recording. A touch of beauty is added to this mini-doc when a stunned Coppola learns of the birth of his granddaughter.
"'Youth Without Youth:' The Make-Up" (18 minutes) follows designer Peter King around the set as he prepares the finer details of the aging process required for Tim Roth. More wonderful fly-on-the-wall footage is included here, especially Roth commenting frankly on his discomfort with the make-up.
"End Credits" (4 minutes) are simply...well, the end credits of the film, lopped off in the theatrical cut to preserve the classic film ambiance.
A theatrical trailer for "Youth Without Youth" is not included on the DVD, but looks at "Steep," "Persepolis," "Jimmy Carter Man from Plains," "The Lives of Others," "Black Book," "Sleuth," "The Counterfeiters," "The Band's Visit," "Redbelt," and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" are presented.
"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.