Youth Without Youth (2007, Francis Ford Coppola)

“And the third? Where do you want me to put the third rose?”

Starts out like Diving Bell and the Butterfly (man awakens after traumatic accident, can barely communicate in hospital) but ends up like The Shining (our hero frozen to death outside). Has some striking shots and scenes but does not have what those two movies do – a unified look, a consistent tone, a sense of sanity. Coppola veers briefly into Lynch-land then comes thudding back to earth with long dialogue scenes only to pop off again a few minutes later. On one hand, it is always refreshing to watch a movie that isn’t quite like any other because it is nuts. On the other, it is attempting to be a narrative film, to present some characters and tell a story, so I wish it would go ahead and do so. Either it makes a load more sense if you’ve read the book, OR the book is mysterious and ambiguous so the film tries to preserve that.


What the movie does right: casting the always awesome Tim Roth (above), being likeably insane, playing with time and memory and sci-fi elements without putting the scenes out of order like everyone else does nowadays (there are flashbacks, but there have always been flashbacks). Opening with classic-hollywood-style credits and closing with a simple “The End” title card. I have to admit that made me happier than anything else.


I don’t think the movie was as beautiful as it intended to be. The shot above (captured from the trailer) is very nice, but most of this underlit blueish photography was just sort of dull. Themes of love and religion are touched upon but not tied into the time and language focus of the plot. Whenever the movie wants to get philosophical it gets interrupted and bogged down in more story. Movie is crazy, but it’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula crazy, or Apocalypse Now crazy, an affecting crazy that makes you feel a little crazy yourself, not a stupidly faux-cult sort of Buckaroo Banzai crazy. I wouldn’t want to sit down and watch it again tomorrow, but I enjoy that feeling from time to time. Lots of dubbing. Uneven sound mix. Makes much better use of its Romanian locations than, say, Man With The Screaming Brain did. Uncredited Matt Damon cameo (but he’s in the trailer and the promo stills so it’s no secret).

I’d like to thank the Tara for mis-framing the film AND projecting it out-of-focus. Few people knew this was playing, even fewer cared, and still fewer got out to see it in the one week it lasted… and we had to watch it out-of-focus. This is why it’s okay to watch movies at home on DVD.

Oh, story, let’s see. Tim Roth is 70 years old in 1938 when he’s hit by lightning and nursed back to health by Dr. Bruno Ganz (Hitler in Downfall, one of the angels in Faraway, So Close). Tim starts aging in reverse, can remember everything and learn instantly, has to hide out from nazis during WWII then moves to Switzerland. Remembers his 1890’s lost love, now dead, finds a girl who looks just like her, she gets hit by lightning, starts flashing-back to previous lives in ancient civilizations and speaking ancient languages. This helps Tim greatly since he’s a master linguist writing an ultimate linguistics book which will be a rosetta stone for future generations and teach them something important about humanity which isn’t quite explained. Tim had given up on the book previously, was gonna kill himself when the lightning hit. Anyway the woman (Alexandra Maria Lara, also in Downfall) starts aging rapidly because of her proximity to Tim, so Tim leaves her despite their mutual love, sees her years later married with kids. Tim has been talking to his other self/selves, apparently schizophrenia but one time the girl saw it too. One day (mid-50’s?) young Tim returns to his hometown in Romania and smashes the mirror in which another self appears, then goes to his old favorite bar and is back in 1938 with all his old friends, aged 70 again, a few minutes before he goes out and freezes to death.


Must’ve been more spoken languages (real and created) in this movie than any other I’ve seen. IMDB says the first cut was an hour longer… this makes sense. Look for Youth Redux on disc, I guess. Only award nomination was an Indy Spirit for best cinematography, appropriately beaten for the prize by Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

I must’ve missed the line when Tim Roth said he was gonna eat poison that day in ’38. So that’s what he does in the end… that is why he spits blood when leaving the bar. Makes the ending much more Donnie Darko than The Shining.

Note, a few weeks later I’m starting to like this movie more and more. Its age/time/youth themes are obviously deeply-felt by Coppola, and the movie takes the time to explore them during those slow parts, no slave to regular movie pacing. Maybe should be seen more as a Romanian film than an American one. Plus, I mean, it is way crazier than There Will Be Blood or anything else out right now. Gotta see again someday, in focus this time.

Slate: “Coppola, describing his first reading of the Eliade novella that inspired him, has said, ‘I loved the way one darn thing after another kept happening.’ If nothing else, his film has certainly captured that feeling onscreen.”

AV Club: “It’s somehow both incomprehensible and not experimental enough; the more Coppola hangs onto his stilted narrative, the less vibrant his free-wheeling ideas become.”

FF Coppola: “I’m offered projects where there are five directors I can think of who can do it as good, or better, than me. I want to make movies that only I can make. Youth Without Youth, maybe I’m crazy, but I am the only one who would make that movie. It would not be a movie if I had not existed. I was offered Thirteen Days, and I had some wacky ideas about how to do it. But they didn’t want wacky ideas. And in the end, the guy [director Roger Donaldson] did it fine. I want to make movies with the same attitude as if I were going to fall in love with something. And if I don’t, there isn’t enough money on earth to pay me to do it.”

“I think most people today are imprisoned by what they have been told movies have to be.”