A load of old Cop­po­las

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

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.

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