Screens » Screens Etc.

Youth Without Youth

by

Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Youth Without Youth, regardless of its flaws, made me excited about the potential of movies again (If you are among the un-fatigued, my sincerest congratulations to ya.). It is an exploration and celebration of language and consciousness, and as a result, it is almost organically a celebration of its own mode of communication: film. (Finally, a literary adaptation that makes sense.)

Youth has a primitive mystical quality that’s been lost in cinema of late — a characteristic that’s unavoidable when you consider its source material: an eponymous novella from The Sacred and the Profane author Mircea Eliade. Where another director might have overdone it with too-rich colors, over-the-top lighting, and special effects, Coppola (whose name you may recognize from such modest achievements as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation; this is his first film to be released in a decade) roots the majority of the film in shabby-tinted reality. Apart from its inventive camera angles and editing, Youth has the look of an old-fashioned, modestly-budgeted film, and refreshingly features but one recognizable face, Tim Roth’s, if you don’t count the cameo by …

Ahem, here’s the sitch (but trust me this isn’t the half of it): In pre-World War II Romania, an aged professor of linguistics, Dominic Matei, having failed to complete his life’s work — something about discovering the first language — heads out to kill himself. Before he has the chance, he’s struck — awfully, in the most literary sense of the word — by a bolt of lightning. He makes an extraordinary recovery, and when the full-body bandage is removed he appears about 40. While he’s in his sickbed, we get glimpses of his youth, of his tragic called-off engagement to a woman named Laura — the love of his life. In time, those yahoo Nazis learn of his condition and want to study him; much later he bumps into a woman who is the exact likeness of Laura — Veronica — only an accident causes her to regress further back through ancient languages in trance-like states, helping Dominic to complete his life’s ambition.

Youth Without Youth is a love story, a mystery, and a welcome mindfuck, all enshrouded in philosophy, that — though it goes cold in its middle — successfully communicates the sacredness of its subject and its medium.


comment