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Film Reviews and Rantings
from the Crazed Irishman
2nd-Mar-2009 02:11 pm

Tim Roth and Alexandra Maria Lara try to unravel the mysteries of consciousness, time, and creation.

(out of 4)

Orson Welles changed the camera perspective, Alfred Hitchcock rotated the camera, Luis Bunuel showed us the surreal, Martin Scorsese constantly moved the camera, Woody Allen broke the fourth wall, Federico Fellini extended the boundaries of 'mise en scene', John Ford created the epic landscape, Stanley Kubrick manipulated time and space.  And I could go on and on.  Francis Ford Coppola, the maestro auteur, is more than aware of these filmmakers and their contributions.  In "Youth Without Youth" he channels all of them effortlessly, combining with them his relentless quest to show film as non-commercial art and his strive to create perfection.

"Youth Without Youth" is not perfection.  We see a film of masterful and near flawless composition, weighted down by a pretentious and needlessly complex narrative story.  I don't usually fault pretentiousness among filmmakers.  I still think "The Fall" by Tarsem Singh and "The Fountain" by Darren Aronofsky are part of a short list of the best films of recent years.  Where Coppola falls short with "Youth Without Youth" is in taking the story too seriously.  With "The Fall" or "The Fountain" we see film composition at its best, understanding the grandiose nature of how the screen can be filled with beauty and hideousness and everything in between; and stories that exist merely to help bring this epic grandeur to us.  Here we see a masterful director who has pulled out all the stops in the filmmaking process, and still wants to elevate a convoluted script, impersonal to the viewer, above the film itself.  I sense that after a ten year hiatus from the director's chair, Mr. Coppola has unleashed his genius on a script unworthy of such efforts.  I later learned how personally important the original novella was to Mr. Coppola, and can only hope that his next inspiration or muse will be more deserving of his talents.  He may have achieved the grandest art-house flick of this generation.

After that excessive diatribe on the story versus the filmmaker, it is only fair to say that the story itself is not horrible.  Indeed the premise is incredibly intriguing, and that alone kept my interest throughout the film while I waited for all of my questions to be addressed.  Alas, they were not, and I was left to stare at the beauty of the scenes, trying to keep up with the philosophical meanderings of the plot.  This is a plot which has Tim Roth as the intellectual Dominic Matei, who has spent/is spending his life sifting through all of our ancient languages to trace mankind back to its origins.  During the process, he loses his one and only love, and spends the rest of his life working on this goal to chart 'The Beginning.'  At the age of 70 he has not finished this goal, and sees no end in sight, so he decides to commit suicide.  However, before he can follow through, he is struck by an omniprescient bolt of lightning.  During his recovery, he finds that he has become a man in his 40's again, has the ability to continually learn in his sleep, and can read entire volumes by passing his hand over the cover, among other fascinating powers.  In his sleep alone he can learn entire languages and cultures, and chooses to continue his life's work.  As a possible religous phenomenon or anomaly during WWII, he is pursued by Hitler's SS who are trying to create the uber-man.  Thus he is forced to travel Europe in hiding, never aging. 

Along his way, he encounters Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who is the spitting image of his long-lost and only love.  As fate would have it, she is also struck be lightning and becomes intertwined with a woman from ancient India who speaks Sanskrit (which of course by now Dominic is fluent in).  As he falls in love with her all over again, we see that her body is aging at an incredibly fast pace, but that her mind lapses further back in time from Sanskrit, to Egyptian, to Babylonian, to what maybe the original form of communication the first humans used.  Dominic continues to study his own new existence, complete with a new duality of being that can sense future events and knowledge beyond our existence, while studying Veronica and the dreamstates she enters which communicate, in time-bending nature, the reverse timeline of humanity.  If I have lost you, we are on the same page.  And if you are still with me, I have only hinted at the vagaries this tale has proposed.  Any further analysis of the plot will be as maddening as the plot itself. 

Instead, I wish to return to the discussion of the exquisite composition of the film; and as is usually the case with Francis Ford Coppola he achieves this hyper-beauty utilizing talents we may not know, who come from outside the traditional American Hollywood production system.  For example, the cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. is breathtaking.  As I stated at the beginning of this entry, we see elements from directing styles implemented from all genres to aid in telling the story cinematically.  And yet, I would not call this film overly stylized.  Francis Ford Coppola knows how to use all the tricks in his hat, without making you entirely aware that he is using magic.  The musical score is nostalgic of the great Franz Waxman or Max Steiner at times, and we can sense Mr. Coppola bringing us back to the roots of great film.  Although the plot was overly thick to get through, I was pulled into the film through the first half with the extraordinary filmmaking talents, awaiting the answers and climax.  But it still baffles me that Mr. Coppola applied the brakes during the second and third acts to focus on a story that could no longer contain enough answers or discoveries to cover the first act.

It is nonetheless exciting to have Francis Ford Coppola return to the director's chair;  to be witness to a master of filmmaking.    Of the peers he grew into film with, it is revitalizing to see him as the director continuing to push the limits and boundaries of film as art.  All in all, I am not looking for another realistic behind the scenes look at a new Corleone family member, nor am I seeking more philosophical rantings from a tortured soldier.  Yet I do still remain in faithful anticipation for the next Coppola magnum opus.

Cast and Crew

Directed By:Francis Ford Coppola
Written By:Francis Ford Coppola
 (based upon the novella by
 Mircea Eliade)
Cinematography By:Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Original Music By:Osvaldo Golijov
Art Direction By:Ruxandra Ionica &
 Mircea Onisoru
Production Design By:Calin Papura
Tim RothAlexandra Maria Lara
Bruno GanzAndre Hennicke
Marcel IuresAlexandra Pirici
and Matt Damon 
Presented By: 
Sony Pictures Classics&  American Zoetrope

Rated R for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image.
The Mick's Input:  Suitable for any teenager who can maturely deal with images and themes of sexuality and mortality.
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