Pop Culture

Pretentious ‘Youth Without Youth’ is laughable

Francis Ford Coppola has said that he related deeply to “Youth Without Youth,” Romanian writer Mircea Eliade’s novella about a man incapable of finishing his magnum opus: a book about time, consciousness and the origin of language.

Coppola had long struggled to finish what he viewed as his own important life work, “Megalopolis,” and was so moved by “Youth Without Youth” that he decided to turn it into a movie instead — his first in nearly a decade.

Well, he finished this one, all right. He completely overdid it.

Coppola’s depiction of an aging linguistics professor (Tim Roth) who gets younger and more intelligent after surviving a lightning strike is an incomprehensible, pretentious, meandering mess — so self-serious, it’s laughable.

Of course it has some impressive imagery (Mihai Malaimare Jr. is the cinematographer), scenes that are beautiful in their intentional artificiality. This is the filmmaker behind “The Godfather” trilogy and “Apocalypse Now,” after all; no one ever questioned that he has an eye for the theatrical.

And you have to give this master filmmaker credit for trying to create a picture on such a small, personal scale after all this time. It’s something he hadn’t done in a very long time — in theory, it should have invigorated him.

But too often the effects look ridiculously cheap, and the darker the tale turns, with characters being reincarnated, appearing as body doubles of themselves and babbling in Sanskrit, the sillier it seems.

“Youth Without Youth” begins with Roth’s 70-year-old Dominic Matei on the verge of taking his own life with the pills he’s stashed away in an envelope. He’s in Bucharest, 1938. Just as he’s crossing the street, zap! Dominic gets hit by lightning (it looks like something out of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”), collapsing with a scorched thump, his umbrella burning nearby.

Not only does he live but he miraculously gets better. Younger, even. He appears half his age — a new set of teeth come in — but he retains the wisdom of his years. Then he gets wiser, finds he knows languages he never studied, and eventually can simply pass his hand over a book (which is accompanied by a cheesy flash of light and a sizzling sound) to learn its contents.

These new talents wow his personal physician (Bruno Ganz) and draw the interest of Nazi scientists, who use the mysterious Woman in Room 6 (Alexandra Pirici) to lure him in. (Her copy of “Mein Kampf” and the swastika on her garter should have been clues that she’s not such a nice girl after all.)

  • Slideshow Photos

    Neil P. Mockford / GC Images

    Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

  • Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Idris Elba -

    Actor Idris Elba seen on the set of :A Hundred Streets" on Aug. 8 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass -

    Actors Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass arrive at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nick Kroll -

    Actor Nick Kroll arrives at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson -

    Actors Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson arrive at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Cast member D'Arcy poses at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" in Hollywood

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James D'Arcy -

    James D'Arcy arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Julianne Hough -

    Actress Julianne Hough arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Hannah Simone -

    Actress Hannah Simone arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nina Dobrev -

    Actress Nina Dobrev arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Murphy, Brandy Norwood -

    TV personality Nicole Murphy and singer Brandy Norwood attend The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Tara Reid -

    Actress Tara Reid attends The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James Wirt, Julia Stiles -

    Actors James Wirt and Julia Stiles stand on stage during the opening night curtain call for "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    AnnaSophia Robb -

    Actress AnnaSophia Robb attends the opening night performance of "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Madame Tussauds New York To Unveil New, Never-Before-Seen Selena Gomez Wax Figure

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Selena Gomez -

    A boy gives the wax figure of Selena Gomez a kiss at the unveiling of the new new, never-before-seen Selena Gomez wax figure at Madame Tussauds New York on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Chris Martin Visits "The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Chris Martin -

    Chris Martin of Coldplay performs during the Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show at Z100 Studio on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Apple Store Soho Presents: Meet the Actors: Michael Fassbender And Domhnall Gleeson - "Frank"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Michael Fassbender -

    Actor Michael Fassbender attends "Meet the Actor" at Apple Store Soho on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Mickey Rourke -

    Actor Mickey Rourke is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Jordana Brewster -

    Actress Jordana Brewster waves outisde of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: G. Garvin Live

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Keshia Knight Pulliam -

    Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam attends G. Garvin Live at Buckhead Theatre on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Reese Witherspoon -

    Actress Reese Witherspoon is seen on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Miley Cyrus

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Miley Cyrus -

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: 67th Locarno Film Festival - Day 2

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Melanie Griffith -

    Actress Melanie Griffith attends a press conference during the 67th Locarno Film Festival on Aug. 7 in Locarno, Switzerland.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Lily Allen

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Lily Allen -

    Singer Lily Allen performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: "The Expendables 3" Paris Photocall At Cinema UGC Normandie

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    'Expendables 3' -

    The stars of "Expendables 3," from left, Kellan Lutz, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes attend "Expendables 3" at Cinema UGC Normandie on Aug. 7 in Paris.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Meet The FilmMakers: "The Rover"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Robert Pattinson -

    Actor Robert Pattinson speaks during the Meet The Filmmakers event for "The Rover" at Apple Store, Regent Street on Aug. 7 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In New York City - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman -

    Actors Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman are spotted filming Bateman's "The Family Fang" in Westchester, New York, on Aug. 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Africa: New Partnership Models For Growth

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Akon -

    Grammy-nominated artist Akon, who is the founder of Akon Lighting Africa Project, discusses at the US-Africa Leaders Summit "Africa: New Parnership Models for Growth" news conference, held in Washington, DC, on Aug. 7, the progress that African heads of state have made.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

But as Dominic travels to Geneva to escape, he can’t seem to get Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara), his lost love from 40 years earlier, out of his mind. Luckily, he meets a young woman named Veronica who happens to look just like Laura (also played by Lara) and who also happens to get hit by lightning, which gives her knowledge of languages she never knew she had.

What are the odds?!

“Youth Without Youth” skips around the globe to India, Malta and eventually back to Dominic’s hometown of Piatra Neamt in Romania. He gains an evil-twin body double (also Roth) who talks to him and eggs him on; Veronica thinks she’s a 7th-century woman named Rupini and starts screeching in ancient tongues in the middle of the night.

On and on it goes — and yes, it’s all as nonsensical as it sounds — with Coppola relying too heavily on upside-down images, tricks with mirrors and gimmicks like having supposedly symbolic roses pop up where they weren’t before.

“Youth Without Youth” is far from the masterwork Coppola and his audience have been anticipating for years — in his broad filmography, it’s more likely to be viewed as a blip.

TOP