Review: ‘Youth’ a dreamy, disconnected drama

Francis Ford Coppola, il padrone of Bay Area filmmakers and creator of some of the most memorable movie moments of the last 35 years, has been in something of a slump.

By some critical reckonings he hasn’t made a truly praiseworthy film since his overarching masterpieces “The Godfather,” “The Conversation,” “The Godfather, Part II” and “Apocalypse Now.” He took serious stabs at period comedy (“Peggy Sue Got Married”), period topical drama (“Gardens of Stone”), period white elephants (“The Cotton Club,” “Tucker,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”), and at least one indulgent personal spectacle, “One from the Heart.”

But even the best of these only possessed fleeting moments of the grandeur that was Coppola in the ’70s, when he captured the zeitgeist in a silver flask. Still, he kept at it.

For his latest, “Youth Without Youth,” Coppola reaches into the heart of an antique Europe with the elliptical, and ultimately elusive, story of an undistinguished man magically bestowed with a gift. While crossing the street in Bucharest, Romania in 1938, linguistics professor Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) is struck by lightning. He survives, but soon after begins to look and feel younger. His doctor (veteran German actor Bruno Ganz) is convinced the electric charge triggered a regenerative process in the old man. The years are dropping off him.

It’s a blessed miracle at first, but strange things happen.

The previously suicidal Dominic is suddenly haunted by dreams of his lost love, Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara, from the recent “Control”), and a doppelgänger image of himself in the mirror threatens to take charge of his life. Nazi German spies show up in search of “the most valuable human specimen on Earth,” and even a CIA agent takes interest (an uncredited Matt Damon).

Dominic’s life begins to spiral into tragedy: the appearance of Laura’s double, encounters in Switzerland and India and dreams of ancient Egypt.

Coppola and crew film all this distorted reality in a wonderfully old-European-meets-new-technology manner. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. and editor Walter Murch achieve visual poetry reminiscent of Bernardo Bertolucci, Guillermo del Toro and Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi, whose “My 20th Century” echoes repeatedly.

But thereare writing and casting problems. Roth seems particularly out of place. Such a somber fantasy relies on our caring about the characters, but we never develop more than a curiosity about Matei. He’s a lonely man who constructs a dual life in his mind, but he’s unable to relate to the people he meets.

So what does he really gain with all that extra time? A lifetime of doubt, it seems. Likewise, we can see what Coppola is trying to evoke in “Youth Without Youth,” but it remains tantalizingly outside his grasp.

Youth Without Youth **

Starring Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Andre M. Hennicke, Marcel Iures

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel by Mircea Eliade

Rated R

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A 14-Mission Muni bus heads down Mission Street near Yerba Buena Gardens. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Pandemic experiments morph into long-term solutions for SF transit agency

The streets of San Francisco became real-time laboratories for The City’s public… Continue reading

NO CONNECTION TO SERVER:
Unable to connect to GPS server ‘blackpress.newsengin.com’
Debate reignites over San Francisco’s first public bank

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

San Francisco Police officers speak with people while responding to a call outside a market on Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SFPD makes the case for more officers, citing Walgreens video

Most of us have seen the video. It shows a man filling… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Courtesy Anne Wernikoff/CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

Most Read