Francis Ford Coppola's first movie in 10 years is a technically dazzling work, but humanly a bewildering one.
The story is a mad tea party. Tim Roth plays Prof. Matei, an elderly, suicidal scholar in late 1930s Romania who is struck by lightning and survives. When his bandages come off, he's a young man once again, with telepathic and telekinetic powers that draw the attention of Nazi scientists. He flees across Europe and India, having transcendental experiences, encountering doppelgängers of himself and the lost love of his youth, Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara), exploring the transmigration of souls and studying the origins of language and the human mind.
"Youth Without Youth" is intellectualism carried to extremes. It keeps going in wave after passionate wave of mysticism and symbolism and metaphysics until you're submerged in confusion.
The film scales preposterous heights as Matei discovers that he possesses superpowers. He gains the ability to absorb any book's contents by passing his hand over it, to learn all the world's languages, to control roulette wheels and to force SS officers to turn their Lugers on themselves. (No wonder Roth smirks.) But when a second character is struck by lightning and transformed into a Sanskrit-speaking Indian mystic, you begin to wonder when the people making this film went completely bonkers. We can accept one miracle per movie, but put two magical lightning strikes in a single film and you invite scoffing laughter.
Based on a novella by Mircea Eliade, a highbrow Romanian philosopher and religion historian, "Youth Without Youth" is movie without plot, imagery without substance, spectacle without entertainment. Coppola wrote, directed and produced the film with his own funds, but if this mad King Ludwig II fantasy castle is what unconstrained imagination creates, I'm all in favor of meddlesome studio heads, middlebrow test audiences and Hollywood endings. The film seems to be saying something about the nature of consciousness, but it drove me to the brink of unconsciousness in the process.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186