Friday, December 14, 2007

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH reminds us how good Tim Roth really is

Ah, come on Sam, you know my philosophy. If you can't say something nice, say it about Diane.Francis Ford Coppola is a fascinating figure of cinema history - and through his story one can see refracted the rise and fall of the studio system but also the rise and fall of the first Indie movement. He is, no doubt, a director of great talent who has made pantheon movies. But he's also a director who tried to radically alter the way in which movies were financed - gambled everything - and lost. There followed a period where he was a director for hire, making mainstream films that dulled his vision. Now he returns as a successful viticulturist with a self-financed avowedly art-house movie.

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH has some of the hallmarks of great cinema. It may have been shot on a low-budget but it looks handsome. DP Mihai Malamaire Jr creates lush, honey-toned images of WW2 Hungary, Rumania and Switzerland that let us slide into a glamourous world of Nazi spies, spa-town casinos and private banks. We are following our protagonist, a 70 year-old philosopher called Dominic, played by Tim Roth. Dominic is about to attempt suicide - his life's attempt to write his only book a failure. But instead he is struck by lightning and - miraculously survives. Not only is he alive, but he is thirty-years younger and blessed with the ability to absorb knowledge from books instantaneously and even to bend matter to his will. Thanks to his friendly doctor (Bruno Ganz) Dominic escapes both the clutches of the Nazis and the lures of the Americans (Matt Damon) both of whom want to claim his as a freakish prize. All is well until, a decade later, he stumbles upon a girl (Alexandra Maria Lara) who looks just like the woman he loved and lost in his youth.

The film moves like a series of surreal dreams, with sounds and images tumbling over one another. The opening credits are wonderful, and this magical tone continues. The calm centre of this strange world is Tim Roth's Dominic. Roth's performance is outstanding: he is able to play a seventy year old and a regenerated forty-year old who still has the stiffness of an old man. He has genuine chemistry with Maria Lara. I think this is the kind of the film that you have to let yourself go with, rather than trying to join up every plot point. I was absolutely riveted by the imagery and by Dominic's bizarre journey. I only lost faith in the film in the final act where Dominic meets his lover again - the story became a little too contrived and absurd for me to believe in it. Nonetheless, the beautiful visuals and compelling central performance make this a must-see movie, and I look forward to seeing Coppola's new brand of art-house movies in future.

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH played Rome 2007 and was released in Italy, Belgium and France earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK and the US.

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