Sunday, 8 May 2011

Youth Without Youth

I generally stay away from films which are panned by the critics. Life’s too short to waste on mediocre films (unless you are paid to review them). But Youth Without Youth intrigued me for many reasons, among which were the facts that it was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and that it was filmed mostly in Romania, a country I visited in 1994 because it was the setting for a novel I was writing at the time; a country that has always fascinated me. Until last week, I had never heard of Youth Without Youth, which was made in 2007, so its release was obviously not widely publicized.

One advantage in watching a critically-panned film is that one goes in with low expectations. And so not only was I not disappointed with the film, I was quite impressed with what it had to offer.

Youth Without Youth is a gorgeous film to look at, with old-fashioned cinematography at its finest (including minimal camera movement) and all the better for its beautiful Romanian locations. It also has a great score. The acting is not what I would call outstanding, but it is more than adequate. Tim Roth was generally convincing as Dominic, the protagonist, a man struck by lightning at age 70 who is only 35 or so when he recovers. Not only is he aging backwards, he is able to do amazing things with his brain, including reading books without even opening them and forcing an enemy to turn his gun on himself. And he has a weird double who does or does not exist on his own and with whom he discusses philosophy. If that sounds a little bizarre, it’s because this is one very bizarre film. But I like bizarre films which regularly surprise me. I can forgive much of such films.

Bruno Ganz plays the doctor who first treats Dominic and tries to protect him from the Nazis (the lightning strike happens in 1938) who want to do experiments on Dominic in order to duplicate his achievement. Alexandra Maria Lara plays Dominic’s first love, Laura, and then his second love, Veronica, who might have been Laura in a previous life but was certainly an Indian woman who lived centuries before and a woman in ancient Egypt, and so on (did I mention this was a bizarre film). And imagine my surprise to see Matt Damon make a cameo appearance.

Damon describes Youth Without Youth as an experimental film with noncommercial themes. Which probably explains why I had never heard of it. If I view the film as a dreamlike mystical poem (it is also very much about Dominic’s dreams, which are sometimes confused with reality), full of interesting ideas,I find it quite enjoyable. If, however, I try to make sense of what I am watching, I experience nothing but frustration. I had countless unanswered questions, like why are Dominic’s amazing powers of the mind never explored in any way and how much are those powers responsible for what happens to Veronica when she starts to age prematurely and so on. Nothing is satisfactorily explained and nothing comes together the way one would expect a conventional film to come together. But this is not a conventional film - it’s a beautiful eccentric mess which gets *** from me. My mug is up even if I’m not sure the stuff inside is safe to drink.

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