Plot: What’s it about?
I’m really not sure what to make of “Youth Without Youth”. Francis Ford Coppola’s return to the director’s chair is a challenging, thought-provoking film that touches on the philosophies of life, death, reincarnation, lost love, and even throws in a bit of political intrigue. Unfortunately, it’s also a maddeningly convoluted and intentionally-paced film that will try all but the most devout movie-watcher’s patience. The story, as far as I could tell, follows Dominic Matei (in a great leading turn by Tim Roth), a man in his seventies who is struck by lightning in the first scene only to emerge from his injuries a man of forty with the ability to regenerate himself and absorb knowledge at an increasingly improbable rate. The enhanced level of consciousness afforded him by these newfound powers also has the side-effect of splintering his mind into two personalities. One is the manifestation we follow for the majority of the picture, a righteous, knowledge-driven man of science and philosophy. The second is seemingly a psychological creation born out of Matei’s insatiable curiosity and the need to unravel the very mysteries of the universe, despite any and all personal consequences or moral ambiguities that his experiments present.
Joining Matei in his search for the meaning of it all is the character of Veronica, who may well be the reincarnation of a woman Dominic had once loved years prior. Veronica has a power of her own: the ability to channel previous incarnations of herself and, in doing so, to divulge increasingly ancient linguistic information to Dominic. These regressions have the unintended side-effect of aging Veronica prematurely, and Dominic must fight internally between his other, ambitious self over what he knows could be the key to his life’s work and his love for Veronica, whom he may destroy in the process. The groundwork is all here for an engaging if odd two hours, and for the most part, it does succeed where it should have certainly failed. Strangely, though, no real explanation is given for any of what happens in the story. It’s simply expected that the audience accept it all, and in the end I found this to be a detriment to the film. A whole subplot that involves the Nazi party trying to obtain Matei’s powers for themselves seems a bit forced and out of place with the love story that is quite obviously the main point of interest. Dominic’s powers make him virtually invulnerable, so there’s never any real sense of danger or impending doom coming from this storyline, and I came away from the film feeling that perhaps it could have been dropped altogether.
In the end, “Youth Without Youth” is a film with a lot of talent both behind and in front of the camera that simply failed to really connect with me on an emotional level. Perhaps I simply didn’t follow the film as closely as needed. Maybe its themes were lost on me in a sense, as I was constantly trying to catch up to what I was seeing. I can’t say that I don’t have a sneaking suspicion that this is a film that will grow on me over time and with repeated viewings, and it’s obvious in watching it the first time that this is a quite direct intent of the film. It’s not one you’re going to grasp entirely the first time you see it. So I suppose I’m not saying I don’t recommend it. But it is, as I’ve said, certainly a challenging work, one that I’m surprised didn’t garner more recognition upon its initial release. I simply found most of the plot too purposefully ambiguous to generate any sense of satisfaction in the end. When it was over, I found myself wondering what it had all meant instead of feeling any kind of emotional catharsis or feeling of closure that it seemed the film was really going for. This may be a good or bad thing depending on the type of film with which you typically connect. For those who generally enjoy a good, intelligent film that may not be readily accessible, I’d have to say I recommend this as at least a rental. For those who don’t want to have to sit through two hours of convolution only to be faced with more as the film finally fades to black, you may want to look elsewhere.
Video: How does it look?
Whatever misgivings I may have about the film itself, this video transfer is positively, unassailably immaculate. I’m not sure if I have ever seen a live-action film with such an exquisite-looking image before. The detail level here is just jaw-dropping. Even sitting back from across the room, the sheer perfection of the transfer was fully in evidence, with the gorgeous cinematography only serving to enhance the effect. Some may not subscribe to shooting movies on video (even HD digital video), but this presentation is surely a testimony to how it can look when employed properly. If I absolutely had to find something to nitpick here, I could say that I did notice an ever-so-slight bit of edge enhancement. And when I say slight, I mean that I had to stare at high-contrast objects with my nose about two inches away from my 46″ Aquos just to notice the issue. For all I know, it could well have been a side-effect of the video process, and I can’t bring myself to knock the video score for this release down just because of its presence as it doesn’t distract in the slightest from the crispness and stunning clarity presented here. Every tree branch and clothing texture comes to splendid life on this Blu-ray, and I cannot recommend the video quality on this release more highly. Subtitles are available in English and French.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby TrueHD track on “Youth Without Youth” is a pleasingly subtle experience. There’s nothing spectacular here, but then if there were, it would take away from the true focus of this film: its story and characters. This isn’t a film that exists for its soundtrack, and what is here does its job well and with sufficient power and ambience when such is called for. I wasn’t “impressed” with this audio track necessarily, but I did feel that it served the film well, and I suppose that is the point in the end, isn’t it? The beginning of the film is the loudest the track ever gets. Once the opening scene is over with, expect a subdued, subtle track that presents dialogue as cleanly and intelligible as could be hoped for, and renders the similarly subtle score with exceptional care and accuracy. Taken on its own, this was a slightly more active mix than I would have expected, and a bit more surround presence, even on a low-key film such as “Youth Without Youth”, is very welcome indeed. A French Dolby TrueHD track is also available.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The extras for “Youth Without Youth” come up a bit short, with only a commentary and three fairly uninspiring featurettes to speak of. The featurettes run less than an hour in total, and really only scratch the surface of what I feel could have been done here. The first, called “The Making Of Youth Without Youth” on the case (but changed to “Behind The Scenes Of Youth Without Youth” on the Blu-ray’s menu), runs only eight minutes and is a fairly typical puff piece with nothing too substantial of interest. The other two featurettes are about 20 minutes each, one covering the film’s music and the other delving into the excellent makeup work done for the movie. I would have liked to see more of an emphasis on the actual production than was presented here, or at least a bit more insight into the philosophies touched on in the finished film. The commentary mirrors the film itself and is your standard Coppola fare: dry and a bit self-important, but very informative for those with the patience for it. Still, not much else can be expected as this movie came and went rather quietly, and the truly phenomenal presentation makes this Blu-ray edition an easy recommendation for fans of the film.