(director/writer: Francis Ford Coppola; screenwriters: based on a novella by Mircea Eliade/translated by Cristina Tirulnic; cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare Jr.; editor: Walter Murch; music: Osvaldo Golijov; cast: Tim Roth (Dominic Matei), Alexandra Maria Lara (Veronica/Laura), Bruno Ganz (Professor Stanciulescu), André M. Hennicke (Dr. Josef Rudolf), Marcel Iures (Professor Tucci), Alexandra Pirici (Woman in Room 6), Adrian Pintea (Pandit), Florin Piersic Jr. (Dr. Gavrila); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Francis Ford Coppola; Sony Pictures Classics; 2007)

“Though not an easy film to grasp or possibly enjoy, it’s nevertheless a mindblowing acid-like excursion into the secret world of Orientalism and the mystical within.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

After a ten year hiatus from making films, which in the 1990s were low-level inferior ones, legendary Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola (“The Rainmaker”/”Jack”/”Dracula”) returns with a vengeance in this intriguing but somewhat incomprehensible and silly personal adaptation of a novella by Mircea Eliade (1907-86), the Romanian-born longtime University of Chicago philosophy of religion professor and novelist popularizer of the occult. The noted controversial author on books of yoga and spiritualism is someone during wartime who committed the political indiscretion of fawning over Mussolini and the local Iron Guard.

Youth’s metaphysical subject matter tangles with issues of choosing between one’s life work and the love of life, as Coppola wisely picks up that Eliade’s big question he is asking mankind is “What do we do with time, the supreme ambiguity of the human condition?”

Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) is a 70-year-old Romanian linguistic professor from Bucharest who is suicidal because he has nothing to show for his life but failure (the obsessed scholar never completed his lifelong study of the origin of language) and loneliness (he never married or formed relationships). Struck by a lightning bolt on Easter Day, Dominic gets fried but not only miraculously survives but receives a remarkable regeneration: his gray hair turns reddish, new teeth push out his rotting older ones, and he looks to be like a vigorous 40-year-old with new erotic energy and speeded-up brain development. The stoop shouldered man sees this inexplicable occurrence as an opportunity to live life over in a different way, and he asks the friendly doctor treating him, Dr. Roman Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), to give him a new identity. The Nazi secret police, working freely in a Romania deserted by France, is suspicious that Dominic could survive a direct hit from lightning and thereby plant in the hospital room next to him a whorish spy (Alexandra Pirici), dressed in kitsch Nazi garters, whom he gleefully balls but displays the talent to communicate with her fluently in a number of languages including Chinese. Dominic seemingly can learn languages in his sleep or by just passing his hands over a book. He also discovers he has within him an annoying doppelganger, an opposite double he can’t shake who urges him to manipulate the minds of others. These abilities interest madman Nazi scientist Josef Rudolf (Andre M. Hennicke), who is conducting radical experiments to create the Aryan master super race and wants the invaluable Dominic as his test subject–Dominic’s abilities even intrigue Hitler. This forces Dominic to assume many false identities and to flee to Switzerland. In Geneva, sometime in the 1950s, Dominic crosses paths with a schoolteacher named Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who is a dead ringer for the love of his youth Laura (he believes she might indeed be a reincarnation of his former lover). Dominic regrettably never married Laura (also played by Lara), as he was too preoccupied with his strange research and she married someone else and died shortly afterwards in childbirth. Veronica, soon after hooking up with Dominic, is struck when on a hike by lightning only to awaken speaking Sanskrit and with the soul of a 7th-century Indian mystic named Rupini.

It’s all about putting into sumptuous visual terms metaphysical things such as the transmigration of souls, the synchronicity of past, present and future, and the merger of dreams and reality, subjects which are easier to deal with in books than on film.

Though not an easy film to grasp or possibly enjoy, it’s nevertheless a mindblowing acid-like excursion into the secret world of Orientalism and the mystical within; it invigorates Coppola to evolve as a new man, a second chance at childhood, as the playful but serious artist has been taken with a renewed urgency and passion to make films with a greater meaning. The filmmaker endows his alter ego in the film, the Tim Roth character, with a sense of eternal youth and with the ability to rise from the dead like a shaman to create new artistic endeavors. This Coppola self-financed project is one from the heart and is an invaluable film for the right sort of viewer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”