[an error occurred while processing this directive]
|Email story||Comment||Letter to the editor|
At 68, the legendary director returns to American cinema as an auteur without bounds.
By Steve Persall, Times Film Critic
Published December 18, 2007
Francis Ford Coppola is 68, nearly as old as the protagonist in his new film, Youth Without Youth, the Oscar-winning filmmaker's first release in a decade.
Like the aging Romanian linguist Dominic Matei, Coppola doesn't think he has accomplished everything he should have. The Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now are half a life ago for Coppola. Owning vineyards, restaurants, resorts and a signature food line are fulfilling, but not so much as making movies.
Youth Without Youth is Coppola's second cinematic childhood - or perhaps the first, since an early yearning to make small, personal movies was stolen by offers he couldn't refuse.
Coppola told the St. Petersburg Times he was struck by Mircea Eliade's novella, the way Matei is felled by lightning and miraculously awakens 40 years younger and boundlessly wiser. Matei, and now Coppola, are compelled to finish what they started.
"I had a kind of old man's career when I was young," Coppola said from New York about two weeks ago, on the morning of his film's premiere. It does not yet have a release date in the bay area.
"So at 66 I said, 'Gee, can't I go back and have a young man's career, making movies about ideas and expressing personal thoughts, not worrying about whether it's commercial or not?'
"I figured I'd just go back to the mentality of a student filmmaker."
Except that young filmmakers can't pull $17-million out of their pockets to make their experimental dreams come true. Coppola did, freeing himself of meddlers and obligations.
Youth Without Youth is a puzzlement that few studio suits would have backed. But it is all Coppola's, from first draft to final, perplexing cut.
A thinking man's film
Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Rob Roy) plays Matei, who, at age 70, is preparing to commit suicide as that lightning bolt hits. A long, delirious recuperation follows, with Coppola adding confused dream sequences, even turning the camera upside down to push Matei's sense of displacement upon viewers.
Unwrapped bandages reveal Matei's physical appearance has reverted to his 30s. Coppola toys with the notion of Nazis wanting to study Matei, but that thread ends when he escapes Romania. The scholar vows to trace the origins of language to its roots, "the inarticulate moment of the beginning."
Matei discovers Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who is the image of his deceased lover, Laura. Veronica also has a mystical connection to language, speaking in dead tongues while Matei records them.
Youth Without Youth creates collisions of philosophies, demolishes linear storytelling and likely will stymie most viewers.
"(Moviegoers are) only going to find it hard to grasp because they've been told movies shouldn't have ideas in them," Coppola said. "Movies are an interesting enough field that there's room for all kinds. They don't all have to be the same."
Usually such words are spoken by much younger filmmakers. Coppola says them because he never strayed from film school instincts. He always made decisions from his gut. Some cost him dearly, with a few fortunes lost.
But as Youth Without Youth proves, Coppola can play with auteur kids in the digital era.
It's all about attitude
"If you hang on to that intuition you were given as a child, as an older person you can do things that are really very youthful," he said.
"The instincts of youth are usually true. The ossification of old age is usually when you're starting to harden, becoming less receptive to new ideas.
"I find in my career that the things that got me in trouble - even fired when I was a 20-year-old screenwriter - the things that people said were too crazy are the scenes that I win lifetime achievement awards for now."
Gradually, another parallel to Matei's fictional life emerges. The aging linguist would trade his newfound intelligence for another chance to love the deceased Laura. Coppola is happily married for 35 years to filmmaker Eleanor Coppola, so that isn't what's missing from his rejuvenation.
"I want to make a film I'm so passionate about that it moves me every time I see it, and hopefully others," Coppola said. "I don't feel I've ever quite achieved that.
"Before I kick off, I want to make a film with the simple beauty of On the Waterfront or any number of (Elia) Kazan films that move me so much. Or a Tennessee Williams kind of heartbreaking but telling human drama about passion and God knows what.
"I would love to make the kind of movie that is almost like poetry."
Such dreams fuel Coppola's youth without youth, which by Matei's lead is youth with wisdom. As our interview ended, I asked the godfather of 1970s cinema what the years have taught him.
"Never stop learning, never stop thinking and trying to understand better," Coppola replied. "Even though the more you understand, the more you understand that you know nothing.
"And always do things out of personal conviction, never out of what people think, or what people tell you will or won't work.
"I'm happy to wait 30 years to make the money back. But I always do."
[Last modified December 17, 2007, 03:28:38]