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Youth Without Youth (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/13/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/20/2008
It happens more than we'd like to admit, but it's something which must be discussed -- many directors produce their best work in the early stages of their careers. I'm not going to name any names here (yet), but think about your favorite director and there's a good chance that their best work was their first or second feature film. (That's certainly true of my favorites.) So, what must it be like for Francis Ford Coppola? After making some well-received films, at age 33 he makes The Godfather, and then, two years later, The Godfather: Part II, and cinema is changed forever. Where do you go from there? Coppola has continued to work and in 2007, he returned with his first film in 10 years, Youth Without Youth. Will this be a new high-watermark for him, or something along the lines of 1996's Jack?
Youth Without Youth opens in Romania in 1938. 70-year old Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) is crossing a city street when he is suddenly struck by lightning. His body covered in burns, he's rushed to a local hospital. Much to the astonishment of the medical staff, led by Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), not only does Dominic survive the horrific event, he begins to heal very quickly. He also begins to age in reverse -- he grows a new set of teeth, his hair grows back, and his wrinkles fade. The fully recovered Dominic looks like a man of 40. Fearing that the Nazis will want to study Dominic, Professor Stanciulescu helps him flee the country. From there, Dominic travels across Europe. As he does, he realizes that along with his newfound youth, he's also acquired some new abilities. When he meets a young woman, Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who has also encountered lightning, Dominic that he can use his powers to help her.
Looking at Coppola's filmography, he's tackled nearly every genre, from crime films to comedies to war movies to horror films. But, I don't know if anyone would have expected him to make a movie which plays like a cross between a 1940s drama, a sci-fi movie, and something from David Lynch. Despite the somewhat coherent synopsis above, Youth Without Youth comes close to defying description.
This is one of those films which will divide audiences straight down the middle, you are either going to love it or hate it. Those who dislike the movie are going to curse Coppola for squandering the genre possibilities of the story, which is based on the writings of Mircea Eliade. The basic core of the story combines elements of science-fiction and action-adventure. Having seen the trailer for the film, I knew that Roth's character grew younger, but the movie completely took me by surprise when he grew a new set of teeth. Clearly, this was going in a more fantastical direction than I had expected. Later on, we see that Dominic has developed psychic powers. But, this is never truly explored. We only get a glimpse of what he can do. As if that weren't a wasted opportunity, we have the action-adventure aspects of the script. We are told that the Nazis want to study Dominic and they even come to the hospital where he's being treated...and then he leaves. This subplot simply dies away and there's no suspense whatsoever.
Whereas Coppola has downplayed these aspects of the story, he's explored a more philosophical and metaphysical avenue. The movie contains many dream-like sequences. Dominic develops a "double" and is constantly talking to it (himself) and asking it for advice. The last act of the film become a meditation on reincarnation and really steers away from Dominic's story. There is a lot of "trick" photography used in these sequences and many shots are projected upside down. I can certainly see how some viewers will applaud Coppola for taking a unique approach to the movie, but it never goes anywhere. The symbolism gets in the way of the story and there are moments where even David Lynch himself would scratch his head in confusion.
With all of this, Coppola has really ignored the emotional aspects of the story. Dominic tells us that just before the accident, he was at the end of his life and that he was about to give it all up as he saw himself as a failure. However, despite some comments to the "double" about finishing his book, we never see Dominic embrace his second chance on life. Conversely, he doesn't seem depressed that he has not only gotten younger, but has stopped aging. For all of the film's deep thoughts and interesting images, we never know what Dominic is feeling.
I'm really not sure to whom Youth Without Youth will appeal. Those looking for Coppola's return to glory will be disappointed. (Although, some of the shots are reminiscent ofBram Stoker's Dracula.) The movie has a great premise, but it goes nowhere as Coppola throws on subplots and ideals which suck the life out of the movie. And at over two hours, that's not a good thing. I can only recommend this film to those who don't mind a dream-like film which doesn't mind mixing Nazis, psychic powers, and spiritual journeys.
Youth Without Youth gets younger everyday onBlu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Coppola shot the movie on HD and this results in a digital transfer which is very sharp and clear. The image shows no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, especially that green bench at the hospital and the red roses. The picture has great depth and the landscape shots look fantastic. The image is nicely bright and the nighttime scenes are never dark. The disc contains a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.2 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects with no issues with the dynamic range. The surround sound in the opening moments of the film is fantastic and demonstrates the power of this track. The stereo effects are good and there are some subtle subwoofer effects at times. The surround sound is most prevalent during crowd scenes.
The Youth Without Youth Blu-ray Disc has several extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Francis Ford Coppola. If you've heard one of Coppola's commentaries, then you know what to expect here. He spends some of the time making scene-specific comments, talking about the actors or the locations. He also discusses the source materials and how he adapted them for the screen. In addition, he talks about the technical aspects of making the movie, especially some of the complicated photography. He does ramble at times, but it's mostly interesting. "The Making of Youth Without Youth" (9 minutes) contains comments from Coppola and the actors and some behind-the-scenes footage. Coppola's comments on the original story, but we really don't learn anything about the drive behind the movie. The actors talk about working with Coppola. "The Music For Youth Without Youth" (27 minutes) has comments from Film Editor/Sound Designer Walter Murch and Composer Osvaldo Golijov who discuss the importance of the music in the film. We are then treated to a great deal of footage showing Golijov at work with the musicians. "Youth Without Youth: The Makeup" (18 minutes) explores the use of special effect makeup in the film to age the characters, especially Roth. There is footage of the makeup being applied. The film simply ends, so the "End Credits" are included here as an extra.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long