A load of old Coppolas
DEFYING the maxim that lightning doesn’t strike twice, both principal characters in Youth Without Youth are struck by lightning at different times, and with difficult – and outlandish – consequences. This cringe-inducing film, the first feature directed by Francis Ford Coppola in the 10 years since The Rainmaker, ranks at the nadir of his career along with the cloying Robin Williams vehicle, Jack.
Tim Roth blankly plays Matei, a septuagenarian professor of linguistics who is crossing a street in Bucharest during a storm in 1938 when he is hit by lightning. Matei is so severely burned that he is mummified in bandages and can communicate only by using a finger in response to prompts from a caring doctor (Bruno Ganz). Unexpectedly, his health improves, gradually and then dramatically. The scars heal,
new teeth grow, his grey hair turns brown, and he looks like he has reverted to his 30s.
As the war looms, the Nazis hear of Matei’s rejuvenation Forging a new identity, he goes on the run as the movie gets globe-hopping, and confusingly finds he has a doppelganger in tow to argue with himself.
In a leap forward to 1955, Matei meets Veronica, a young woman with a remarkable resemblance to the former love of his life, which is none too surprising as both women are played by Alexandra Maria Lara. Another troubled soul, Veronica is traumatized after a car crash and giving to speaking Sanskrit and claiming her name is Rupini.
One eventually feels embarrassed for such capable actors as Roth, Ganz and, in particular, Lara (last seen as the Belgian lover of Ian Curtis in Control), while Matt Damon’s cameo as a bow-tied, pipesmoking Life magazine reporter is as brief as it is pointless. Surely, before they accepted the roles, they must have read Coppola’s trite screenplay, based on a 1980 novella by deceased Romanian philosopherMircae Eliade. Coppola’s expressions of admiration for Eliade’s work are mystifying on the basis of the gibberish trotted out here.
A few stylistic flourishes, such as a nocturnal scene that explicitly nods to The Third Man, fail to distract from, or compensate for, the rambling structure of the film, the heavy-handed symbolism, the self-consciously staged camera set-ups (some upside down), the archly drawn characters who tip over into caricature, and the gratingly stilted dialogue. In the most risible exchange, Matei arrives in Malta with Veronica, who asks about a bird flying by. “It’s aMaltese falcon,” he explains.
It is hard to credit that the man who directed movies with the narrative power, visual style and emotional depth of The Godfather, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now could produce a film as utterly boring and irritating as Youth Without Youth. Perhaps Coppola should stick with what he has done best in recent years – producing wine.