Youth Without Youth

Arty fantasy thriller

  • Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Stylistically, it’s an art film, with slow pacing, a mix of muted and striking colors, and unusual camera angles. Yet the plot sounds like a superhero comic-book movie: Lightning strikes a 70-year-old college professor, but instead of killing him, it recovers his youth and gives him incredible mental powers. (Wow! A lightning strike is better than a bite from a radioactive spider.) But since this is Bucharest in 1938, the Nazis want to take him to a secret laboratory and figure out how to make a race of supermen.

If Francis Ford Coppola had stuck to this odd mix of style and story, his first film in eight years might have become his first good one in nearly 30. But just as the cat-and-mouse game is heating up, and you’re looking forward to watching the hero (Tim Roth as Dominic Matei) help defeat Hitler, a newspaper headline tells you that the war is over and the plot drops out from under you.

I didn’t check my watch, but I believe this was less than halfway through the movie. Maybe the second part just seems longer.

Without Nazis to worry about, Dominic meets a young woman who’s a dead ringer for the love of his youth. She’s probably the long-dead woman’s reincarnation; she certainly has a lot of other past lives inside of her. Every so often she starts acting strange and speaks in some ancient language or another. That’s very convenient for Dominic–he’s a linguist and knows most of these languages, and her strange episodes are helping him complete his life work on the origins of human speech. And to make things even more convenient, they fall in love.

But convenience isn’t drama, and the second part of Youth Without Youth meanders without direction. I suppose Coppola was trying to touch on something profound, but whatever he had to say didn’t come through. In a story that’s already established as fantasy, there’s nothing worthwhile in a woman speaking strange, dead languages unless she has something interesting to say.

In the first part of the film, the Godfather director proved that he still has it in him. Too bad he didn’t have enough in him to fill a whole movie.