Romania is on the brink of war with Germany and linguistics professor Dominic Matei has little to left to live for. On Easter Day, 1938 he crosses the street and is struck by a bolt of lightning. Badly burned and nearly dead, he amazes the doctors by healing in only a short time. He defies science and nature and ages in reverse from 70 to 40. There's seemingly no limit to the wonder and love he can find in his new youth. He pursues lost dreams, endless knowledge and the secrets of life until his secret is discovered. Now he must use his increased intelligence to keep his powerful secret safe from the wicked powers that would use it for evil.
Youth without Youth marks famed director (the acclaimed and academy awards winning Godfather trilogy) Francis Ford Coppola’s return to the directing duties after many years of absent (the last one was the 1997’s The Rainmaker). Reportedly, this movie was financed with the profits made with his successful California vineyard. Without a financer to report to and with a certain celebrated status in the movie world, it makes one wonder if Francis Ford Coppola had become overindulgent with his own personal musing while creating Youth without Youth.
Most critics certainty seem to feel that way as they called this movie pretentious, impenetrable and confusing. Our own MX movie reviewer called it a deep broody slow plodding movie that is not quite sure where it’s heading and our mutual friend called it a lazy, seriously horrendous, unpalatable and overwrought with elements that bore.
All these critically unpleasant comments came as a surprise as personally, I was utterly engaged from the start to the end of this movie. It makes me wonder why our views differ so much. Could it be that personal expectation or knowledge, experience that factor in on liking or disliking this movie?
Personally, I believe that even with the advance scientific progress, there is so much about how brains work which remains a mystery to us. For me, it’s plausible that if we learn to use certain parts of our brain in a different manner, we might be capable of miraculous actions like telepathy or even self healing / rejuvenation power. I’m also intrigued with the hazy accounts of doppelgänger (a ghostly double of a living person) and reincarnation (my favorite tale would be of a young boy who could suddenly tell stories of his previous incarnations) that had ever been recorded.
Youth without Youth had a great blend of the elements mentioned above and Francis Ford Coppola used it to create a wonderful story of a man out of time, Dominic Matei. The story got started off by musing about being unable to achieve greatness through inventions or discover and how our protagonist couldn’t even finish his one and only life work. The cruelest cut was that the only woman he ever loved left him so that he could concentrate on finishing his work.
But all that changed as Dominic gets a second chance in life. From my perspective, the lighting that struck him gave some sort of rejuvenation and his increased thoughts processing abilities. While some felt that it’s all hogwash, it was an exciting presentation of a man going through miraculous and wondrous chain of events.
With the unexpected blessing, came along a form of curse that kept balance of “life”. As he became regain his youth, he became hunted for the secret of self healing. As he gained knowledge, he realized he could no longer interact with his peers as they could not understand what he figured out. As he gained an unexpected chance of reuniting with his one true love, he could only watch her wilted away in front of him. Such mixture of weird “Ripley’s believe or not” events and ironic tragedies just made it so cinematic absorbing that I couldn’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next.
It’s was difficult for me to understand why some would describe this movie as a slow plodding movie with elements that bore as every turn of events for Dominic Matei were intriguing and (gasp) exciting. The filmmaker kept the story moving at a very brisk pace and allowed his protagonist go through a series of miraculous events that could probably fill 2 or 3 movies if one would prefer to spread them out. The Nazi threat, the dubious doppelganger and even a love story that span across reincarnations are all told in a hurried but entertaining skillful fashion.
Was it confusing / difficult to comprehend or even fair to accuse the director to be under the influence of his own alcoholic beverages while making this movie? Personally I find it hard to understand what is so difficult to understand what the movie about. Basically it’s about an intellectual who had got to choose between his work and love. He had the unexpected chance to do it more than once in a lifetime but is tragically burden with extraordinary knowledge that predestined his “destiny”.
In closing, I found the very last bit in this movie where Dominic found unexpected company of his old friends rather eerily familiar. The mixture of the joy of their camaraderie and frustration that they could not understand him was personally heartfelt and strangely relatable, especially when it comes to this movie.
Commentary with Director
When Francis Ford Coppola started his commentary by saying that he is very happy to watch Youth without Youth with the audience, it gave that upfront cozy feeling of friendship with this director. It felt like the director is sitting beside you and sharing his knowledge on making this film.
The most interesting bit would be when the director actually addressed on the comments that this movie was hard to understand (at the 54:34 mark, if you can’t be bothered to listen to the whole 2 hours commentary). Do listen to this bit and see if you agree with his decision in making this film.
However the commentary is flawed in certain ways. There are moments of silence when I can’t help but feel that the director was either too absorbed in watching his own movie or had ran out of things to share.
Nevertheless, this commentary is filled with useful information about the movie and film making choices. It’s definitely helpful if you could not understand the movie during the first viewing or enjoyed the movie and are now seeking for more insights to what had transpired.
The Making of Youth without Youth
Surprisingly, this making of segment is quite short for a “dense” movie likes Youth without Youth (specially compared to the other two segments in this features). However even in a short time frame, it covers quite a few aspects of the making of Youth without Youth (such as reason for making this film, the locations, the thinking process during filming, filming techniques and etc). Granted that this segment might be brief but there still a thing or two to pick up from the master of movies.
Last but not least, the director shared with us on what he learned from making this movie. Personally it’s an awe-inspiring moment that such an acclaimed director who did the Godfather trilogy would still constantly learn new stuff about movie making while making movie.
The Music for Youth without Youth
This 26 mins segment is an extensive look into the music of Youth without Youth. It got started with Walter Murch (Film Editor/Sound Designer) talks about the music could be used to evoke the audience into feeling for what’s being transpired on the screen. It went on to cover on the various unique instruments that were used to produce the music of this movie’s soundtrack, with explanations of the different merits.
There an even a moment when Francis Ford Coppola celebrates the birth of his grandchild with the musicians. Yup, he was still working while his daughter Sofia was giving birth. I’m sure that my parents would have chosen to be with their daughter instead of working.
It went on to show his dedication for this movie soundtrack and how he maintained a balance of the creative control with the musicians. Definitely worth a look for those who have special interest in the musical aspect of movies (those of you who hated the movie… you know who you are).
Youth without Youth The Makeup
Although the scale wasn’t as grand as the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Youth without Youth had it’s fair share of make up effects to age the protagonist. The early portion of this segment was spent on the discussion between the director, the actor Tim Roth and the makeup artist on the difficulties and how to make the character believable.
From the exaggerated make up for Dominic, it went on to touch on the subtle make up for Veronica. The segment covers the rather “unnoticeable changes” made for Veronica and the own set of difficulties in aging her in the most subtle ways.
Yes! You read the title correctly. The End Credits is an extra feature in this DVD. Before you start making unflatteringly remarks, there a reason why there an End Credits for this DVD. If you had watched the movie carefully, there are no End Credits at the end of this movie. It simply ended with The End.
The director was trying to capture the feel of the 1930s where the credits are placed at the opening credits and not at the end of the film. However I supposed the filmmaker felt that he wanted to properly credit those who were involved with the production and therefore we get such a feature in the Special Features segment. It comes with a beautiful musical score from this movie so it wasn’t that bad going through this segment.
Never would I expect to write so much about End Credits in a Special Features segment.
Watch this movie with the subtitle switched on. There are some parts when foreign languages are spoken and the English subtitles do not appear automatically.
Strangely there were some white dots / scratched that appeared on screen when the director’s commentary and subtitles are both activated (it appeared normally otherwise).
Review by Richard Lim Jr
Posted on 11 August 2009