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

Just Posted

A felled tree in Sydney G. Walton Square blocks part of a lane on Front Street following Sunday’s storm on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
After the rain: What San Francisco learned from a monster storm

Widespread damage underscored The City’s susceptibility to heavy wind and rain

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
$1.4 trillion ‘blueprint’ would address Bay Area’s housing, transit woes

Analyzing the big ticket proposals in ‘Plan Bay Area 2050’

A felled tree in San Francisco is pictured on Fillmore Street following a major storm that produced high winds and heavy rains on Oct. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Philip Ford)
Storm updates: Rainiest October day in San Francisco history

Rainfall exceeded 10 inches in parts of the Bay Area

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
The Department of Building Inspection, at 49 South Van Ness Ave., has been mired in scandal since its creation by voter referendum under Proposition G in 1994. (Courtesy SF.gov)
Whistleblowing hasn’t worked at the SF Dept. of Building Inspection

DBI inspectors say their boss kept them off connected builders’ projects

Most Read