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Rated 2.98 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Superhero Researcher Romance
by Jeffrey Chen

What kind of movie is Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth? I think it might be called a superhero researcher romance. The film is something of a living paradox -- it's divided in what feels like two unrelated halves, and though experimental, it's filmed in a classic style while ignoring almost all the rules of narrative cinema, yet feeling conventional in overarching theme. I'm of two minds about it -- both annoyed and excited at the same time.  

Coppola's protagonist is Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), an aged pre-WWII professor who, after a freak accident, finds his body young again. This premise alone would've been enticing enough, but we also learn the following about Domic: he's a student of language and hopes to complete his ultimate work by discovering the original language; he lost a true love in the past; he gets superpowers (really!) and the Nazis are after him; and he has this (imaginary?) double who talks to him. Eyebrow raised yet?

The second half of the movie then becomes very different from the first, but the story is less interesting -- instead of being science fictional about the possibilities of getting a second chance and experiencing youth with the benefit of wisdom, it becomes a love story (albeit a rather supernatural one). The ending did not agree with me, as it seems to reinforce the hackneyed notions that ethics/heart thwart scientific research and futility is cyclically inescapable, capped off by what looks like an arbitrary ambiguous coda. It's what makes the movie a letdown, despite being initially exciting to watch, with its admittedly lovely and interesting cinematography and its lush, mysterious atmposphere.

Youth Without Youth challenges one to keep up, but its destination is disappointingly simplistic. Just the same, I look back on the film with a wry smile, and maybe it'll be worth a revisit one day, if only because it's not easy to find such a similarly odd and intriguing experience.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for sexuality, nudity and brief disburbing images.)

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