Francis Ford Coppola is considered one of the greatest directors of our time, having created what are considered some of the best movies ever, including the first two Godfather films and Apocalypse Now. Now, ten years since he directed The Rainmaker, Coppola has returned for his first film of the 21st century, the Kafka-esque Youth Without Youth.
Tim Roth stars as Dominic, a 70-year old man who has devoted his life to studying language. In the later years of his life, however, he realizes that he may never complete his life's work: to capture the essence of all language and discover the truth about its origins. However, on one fateful day, he is struck by lightning. Burned from head to toe, the doctors are amazed that he is even alive, let alone functioning. Over time, he is nursed back to health, his speech and motor skills return and his flesh heals. To everyone's shock, he no longer appears to be 70 years old but rather a man no older than 40. As Dominic tries to grapple with his newfound youth, he travels from place to place, dodging Nazis and others who want to discover his secrets. One day, though, he comes across a young woman who has survived a freakish storm, and in the process has started to speak in ancient languages long since forgotten. Both allured by the facts she can provide and her sheer beauty and personality, Dominic strikes up a loving relationship with the woman. Unfortunately, his love could destroy her.
Youth Without Youth is many movies at once. Had David Lynch directed this film, very few things could be taken literally and it would almost be assured that the whole story would just be a bunch of random scenes thrown together to confuse the audience. Coppola takes a more layered approach, delivering a rather literal film on top of something much deeper and metaphorical. On its most basic level, Youth Without Youth is still engaging, as it is quite mysterious how a man could become younger after getting struck by lightning. The Nazi element is a brief but pleasant surprise, and Coppola throws in enough obstacles and physical moments to keep the movie intriguing even to the simplest of viewer.
Of course, as things go on, Coppola slowly begins to peel away the surface and dive into the issues he's trying to tackle. I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of the movie is, but on a conceptual level, Youth Without Youth intrigues, confuses and poses questions to the right amount. I enjoy being confused by films, and while the movie isn't particularly confusing, it leaves enough up in the air to warrant a few post-screening debates. I refer to the "simplest of viewer" in the previous paragraph. That may have been a bit of a stretch. While most of Youth can be enjoyed without looking deeper than the standard plot, the ending certainly digresses into the meat of the story, which is a lot less literal.
Roth, by the way, delivers a great performance. He is one of those actors whom many people recognize but few know his name, despite prominent roles in many memorable and quality films. Sooner or later, he's going to break through (The Incredible Hulk doesn't count), win an Oscar and see his career skyrocket. Youth Without Youth is just one more quality performance to put on his resume.
Youth Without Youth is a pretty good movie. It in no way ranks among Coppola's best films, but that's a hard feat for anyone to achieve, including Coppola himself. The movie is much more personal and introspective than what you'd expect from the director, and is a refreshing change of pace from the other films on the market.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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