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Originally published Friday, December 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Coppola's "Youth" not worth the wait

There's undeniable passion lurking in every beautifully tinted frame of Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth. " But the meandering and often incomprehensible film is any indication, he's left storytelling behind.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Youth Without Youth," with Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, André M. Hennicke, Alexandra Pirici, Marcel Iures. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on a novella by Mircea Eliade. 125 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality, nudity and a brief disturbing image. Harvard Exit.

There's undeniable passion lurking in every beautifully tinted frame of Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth." The great filmmaker of the '70s ("The Godfather," "The Godfather II," "The Conversation," "Apocalypse Now") is still palpably excited about filmmaking at the age of 68, and it shows. But something's changed in his long absence from the industry (he hasn't completed a film since 1997's thriller-for-hire "The Rainmaker"): If the meandering and often incomprehensible "Youth Without Youth" is any indication, he's left storytelling behind.

In the film, best as I can tell, Tim Roth plays a 70-year-old professor of linguistics in 1930s Europe who, in the film's opening scenes, is struck by lightning. His umbrella burns, but he survives — and soon finds, in the hospital, that he is inexplicably growing younger. Wrinkles smooth, new teeth grow in, hair thickens, and he looks decades younger; a fact which soon fascinates the Nazis, who wish to examine him. From there, the plot spirals into murky scribbles: A mysterious double appears, a woman from his past haunts him, a strange Sanskrit-speaking woman inspires a trip to India, telekinesis occurs, and various philosophies of language, religion, consciousness and good and evil are discussed. And that's just for starters.

I'm sure all of this makes perfect sense to Coppola, who's been working on this film for years (and financed it himself, from his business interests). But he fails to make his vision clear, or even slightly overcast. There's much to appreciate in "Youth Without Youth," most notably the lush cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr.; the film is filled with indigo shadows on dark streets, violet-lit nighttime conversations, memory scenes antiqued by sepia-toned light.

Perhaps Coppola's film, like some famously difficult works of literature (in one scene, a copy of Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" can be seen, quite appropriately), would benefit from multiple viewings. Or perhaps this was something Coppola needed to get out of his system, whether or not an audience needed to see it.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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