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January 29, 2008

Youth without Youth


Francis Ford Coppola - 2007
Sony Classic Pictures 35mm Film

It took Francis Ford Coppola to get me out of the house and into a movie theater for the first time this year. I had been wanting to see Youth without Youth simply on the basis of the few film clips that I saw last May when Coppola came to Miami Beach. There was a bit of unintended coincidence in seeing the new film at the Starz Theater in Denver. There is a photograph of Tim Roth as a young academic, ;posing with the love of his life at a place identified as The Tivoli. The Starz Theater is located on the former site of Denver's Tivoli Brewery.

More seriously, after seeing Coppola's first film in ten years, I understand why this film has been given the cold shoulder by alleged film critics. Youth without Youth is old-fashioned in several ways, but chief among them is that Coppola has done what all but a few filmmakers have forgotten, which is to try and tackle the big themes. In the space of a little more than two hours Coppola tries to discuss the essence of Buddhism - birth, death, sickness and aging, as well as time, memory, language and history. It is as if film critics, as well as audiences, have been so use to films by intellectual midgets, that they have run away from the challenge of Coppola's gauntlet.

youth without youth 2.jpg

Even the credit sequence suggests an older film with the titles superimposed over images of roses. Like older films, all of the credits are at the beginning. Visually one sees what made Coppola excited about the possibilities of making film in his own youth - cockeyed angles and upside down shots, as well as abstract images, particularly of the sea. Even some of the special effects, as when a rose appears in Tim Roth's hand, seem old fashioned, only slightly more advanced than the camera tricks of Georges Melies. The passage of time is indicated by newspaper headlines, much like Hollywood films from the Forties. Much of Youth without Youth is shot in autumnal shadings befitting a film about characters enmeshed in the past even as they move forward into the future.

I can't claim to have really understood Youth without Youth or what Coppola was really intending to say. When everything is stripped away, the film is about a man given a second chance at love only to find that sometimes there are choices that are as disastrous as dying alone. The film ends with a discussion of the story of a man who dreams he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. This is appropriate for a film that shares the spirit of Borges as well as Borzage. At its' heart, Youth without Youth is the kind of film that Hollywood forgot to make too many years ago, a classic love story.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 29, 2008 10:05 PM


You know how to lure me, don't you? "Old-fashioned." "much like Hollywood films from the 40s." I am so there.

Seriously, this is one I need to see -- for years we all say that Coppola needs to get back to serious cinema and when he does the movie comes and goes in a blink.

Posted by: Campaspe at February 3, 2008 04:46 PM