A mature take on youth

Coppola's latest effort is overblown, but cinema is better off for his presence

<strong>Youth With

There will always be a place in any sane heart for the man behind the Godfather films (well, the first two anyway). Even so, it isn't a glorious time to be Francis Ford Coppola right now. Sure, his wine business is making cash registers sing, but his pictures haven't enjoyed equivalent favour for many years. If The Godfather was remade today, it wouldn't be a horse's head that the Mafia used to frighten its enemies - it would be a DVD of Jack, Coppola's wretched touchy-feely comedy starring Robin Williams.

But this is a director who is at his fiercest when the odds are against him. Most of Hollywood was praying for The Godfather and Apocalypse Now to fail. And when he was still reeling from the ridicule that greeted his synthetic One from the Heart, Coppola made the refreshing, Cocteau-esque Rumble Fish. While watching his first film in a decade, Youth Without Youth (which opens on 14 December), I couldn't help recalling the amused speech that Tom Waits gives in Rumble Fish: "Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item." Well, Youth Without Youth is a funny thing, too - unintentionally so - and a very peculiar item to boot.

It begins in Bucharest, 1938, where an elderly linguistics professor, Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), is hit by lightning. In hospital, he begins to experience reverse ageing, and is soon declared "clinically youthful". Dominic also discovers he can now absorb the contents of any book simply by looking at the cover, something most of us experience only when presented with a new Tony Parsons novel. And he begins conversing with an imaginary double who engages him in philosophical volleys so stilted, they give you some idea of what it would be like to discuss the Israeli peace process with David and Victoria Beckham.

Dominic's doctor, Professor Stanciulescu (Bruno Ganz), tries to warn his patient of the potential dangers should Nazi Germany get hold of him. What he actually says is: "You have become the most valuable human specimen on the face of the earth. Now, come have your chicken," which certainly puts things in perspective. After sleeping with a woman who has a swastika on her garter belt - almost as big a turn-off, in my experience, as socks in bed - Dominic flees to Geneva. There, he encounters Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who gets struck by lightning before regaining consciousness and believing herself to be a 7th-century Indian scholar named Rupini.

She and Dominic are evidently made for one another, and not only because they have a combined age of around 1,400 years and can both receive the World Service in their frontal lobes. Dominic has been trying all his life to locate the origins of language, and now here he is, getting frisky with a woman who wakes up every night raving in ancient tongues. "One more regression and she'll reach the proto-language!" he exclaims, clearly realising that he couldn't have asked for more if he'd placed a personals ad that read: "Man with freak ageing disorder seeks woman with catwalk looks. Must have GSOH and be fluent in Sanskrit."

Any return by Coppola to personal film-making is to be applauded, even if that applause has to compete with incredulous laughter. In case you hadn't gathered already, this is an intensely silly film, but its silliness is bound up with the good stuff - the lushness and idealism, the cinematic grandeur. Many fantastical things happen in the picture, but Coppola and his visionary editor-cum-sound designer Walter Murch keep faith with old-school techniques. As with the director's visually ravishing Dracula (1992), special effects are staged within the camera; the sudden appearance of roses about Dominic's person, for example, is achieved simply by halting filming, placing the flowers in the relevant places, then starting the camera again. Primitive, yes, but curiously bewitching.

If I seem to be cutting the film too much slack because of its director's CV, I should point out that it is also overlong, archly performed and falls far short of the profundity to which it aspires. But it has something - spirit, romanticism, riskiness. Youth Without Youth reminds you that it would be a sad thing indeed to have cinema without Coppola.

Pick of the week

Southland Tales (15)
dir: Richard Kelly
This science-fiction satire from the Donnie Darko director is confusing and infuriating, but always original.

The Golden Compass (12A)
dir: Chris Weitz
Move over, Harry Potter: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials hits the screen.

Silent Light (15)
dir: Carlos Reygadas
Haunting drama from the director of Japón and Battle in Heaven.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 10 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, How New Labour turned toxic

Show Hide image

For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide