In the year 1938 languages professor Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) feels as though there's little point in going on with life, especially as he has reached his seventies and failed to complete his magnum opus on the origins of language and the woman he loved for all these years is long lost to him. However, one day as he wanders the streets of Bucharest, planning his suicide, an unexpected occurence stops him in his tracks, or rather blows him out of them as he is struck by lightning. Taken to a hospital, it is discovered that the bolt has had a very strange effect on the elderly gent...
Unless you count his work on trying to salvage the doomed sci-fi flop Supernova, Youth Without Youth was the first film Francis Ford Coppola had directed in ten years, having spent the interim tending his vineyard to lucrative results. Therefore he had enough money in the bank to fund this, one of his personal, "art" films, an adaptation of Romanian writer Mircea Eliade's novella, which might have proved controversial due to the author's far right involvement, only as it turned out not too many moviegoers were that interested. This made the film something akin to a vanity project for a director who many hoped better things for.
All those hopes based on his past work, although he was generally perceived to have largely lost his touch somewhere around the eighties, and this effort was unlikely to change many minds. However, an endeavour this idiosyncratic and willfully uncommercial from a director who had made some of the most famous films of all time was bound to generate some kind of following, and there were those happy to dive straight into Youth Without Youth and its mysteries and conundrums. For the rest of us, it would come across as tantalisingly close to something intriguing as the story skirted around themes such as lost love and fear of ageing, only to replace them willy-nilly with more obscure concerns.
This left you with a farrago of half-explored ideas that jostled for position amidst some pretty murky storytelling, a far cry from the firm hand on the medium Coppola had exhibited in even his less auspicious works. Not even Roth's lead character looked as if he knew what was going on among the sepia-tinged imagery, which was classy but weirdly empty, handsome but hard to engage with. When Dominic gradually comes around he finds that his body is no longer in its seventies, but actually that of a far younger man, someone between thirty-five and forty, and the doctors are at a loss to explain this to him - it's a bona fide miracle. Something like that is bound to attract attention and so it does, from female admirers to the rather more sinister Nazis.
From here the plot moves into a wartime thriller, except it's not very thrilling, as the German authorities demand that Dominic hands himself over to them for experimentation, and he does his best to wriggle out of their clutches, but that's not the end of the affair by any means, as we move further into the next decade whereupon he discovers the reincarnation of his sweetheart, Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara). This all gets bogged down in Eastern mysticism, which will be difficult to get the hang of for non-initiates, as the woman is struck down by her own lightning bolt and the connection between her and Dominic strengthens, but at what cost? By this time you'll either be swept up in the whole thing, or more likely wondering when this will possibly end as the would-be romanticism falls apart in a morass of pretension. And yet, the ambition was there, a filmmaker unwilling to take the easy path, for which many will have a grudging admiration. Music by Ed Goldfarb.