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  • Youth Without Youth

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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    ROMANIA - 1938
    On Easter Sunday, Dominic Matei (TIM ROTH) takes a train from his home in Piatra Neamt to Bucharest, arriving at the onset of a rainstorm. He intends to kill himself far from home by swallowing a lethal amount of strychnine, stashed in a blue envelope under his arm - but fate intervenes. While opening his umbrella, he is struck by lightning and thrown to the pavement, a burnt crisp.

    Taken to a local hospital, he not only survives, but within a short time presents an appearance decades younger than his actual 70 years. The electrical discharge has set in motion a regenerative process - or so believes his primary doctor, Professor Stanciulescu (BRUNO GANZ).

    While recuperating, Dominic is haunted by memories of Laura (ALEXANDRA MARIA LARA), the irreplaceable love of his youth, who broke their engagement because she found him unreachable and later died in childbirth. Never married, Dominic has devoted his life to the study of the origin of language. He believes language orders human consciousness and plays a significant role in creating our sense of time. His theories and ruminations are part of a magnum opus he is desperate to complete before dying.

    When told his youth is returning - even a new set of teeth - he is incredulous but thrilled. Is this a new lease on life - more time for writing and research?

    Perhaps - but danger lurks. Romanian extremists are enthralled by the Nazis whose spies and agents are everywhere. Dubious parties show interest in Dominic, now a famous freak because of the Professor's published articles. He feels unsafe and wishes he had someone to talk to. Suddenly, a presence who looks just like him materializes to offer advice: "Tell the Professor what he wants to know and ask him for a false identity." Dominic obeys his "Double" and soon leaves the hospital in a 1938 Citroen.

    The Professor awaits his arrival with diaries and a wire recorder. "Write down or record everything you think, see, or read," he instructs. Soon, Dominic is speaking Latin, Chinese, and Armenian into the recorder and making notations in the diary. His memory is surging back to life - as is his libido, if notations in his diary mean anything.

    Alarmed by what he reads, the Professor warns his patient to beware of "the Woman in Room 6" (ALEXANDRA PIRICI), as she was imposed by the Secret Service. Dominic insists she's merely a figment of recent erotic dreams. However, at their next rendezvous, he is chilled to see a swastika embroidered on her garter belt, alarmed when another romp produces a copy of Mein Kampf. At that moment, the "Double" re-appears to prove the validity of his existence - and advice - by performing a miracle with roses. Two roses are given him but not the third…

    A few weeks later, the Professor returns with ominous news. The "Woman in Room 6" gave the Gestapo recordings of her nocturnal conversations with Dominic, then disappeared. He fears Dominic will be kidnapped and turned over to Dr. Josef Rudolf (ANDRE M. HENNICKE), a German Nazi scientist studying the effects of high-voltage electricity on animals. An assistant enters to report that officers of the Reich are already there, stealing case files and demanding custody of Dominic. The steely Professor refuses by saying his patient is not well enough to travel. "We'll be back," they warn, "with a German doctor."

    In great haste, the Professor prepares false papers for Dominic and sends him to neutral Switzerland. It is the last time Dominic will see his beloved benefactor. Now he is truly alone… with only his "Double."

    GENEVA – BERN – GENEVA – 1941 – 1955
    During the war years, Dominic keeps his own counsel. His powers of learning expand exponentially, enabling him to absorb the contents of an entire book just by passing it before his eyes. But he still fears for his safety, changing his domicile often, learning to forge documents and prepare disguises, augmenting his dwindling income by using his new powers to predict the results of a roulette wheel in a casino.

    At a literary party one night, he is approached by a genial fellow who identifies himself as "Dr. Monroe," a gerontologist who'd like to discuss Dr. Stanciulescu's work on rejuvenation. "Be careful!" the "Double" hisses. "He knows who you are." Dominic denies everything and dashes into the night, followed by the stranger who calls to him, "Mr. Matei, what do we do with 'time,' the supreme ambiguity of the human condition?" Tempted to respond, Dominic is saved by the "Woman in Room 6," who had fallen in love with him. "Don't believe him," she cries. She tells Dominic that Monroe is actually Dr. Rudolf - and it was the Gestapo who killed Professor Stanciulescu. Dr. Rudolf pulls out a Lugar and shoots her, then points the pistol at Dominic. Calling upon telekinetic powers, Dominic wills the gun to slowly reverse direction and commits murder by forcing the scientist to shoot himself.

    After the war, Dominic continues living in Switzerland, creating a new language to record his fears about nuclear destruction in the future and working on his book on the origins of language. But his hard-won tranquility is soon to be shattered. While hiking in the mountains, he encounters two sightseers, Gertrude and Veronica (ALEXANDRA MARIA LARA), who ask for directions to the top. He warns them a storm is brewing, but Veronica, displaying an umbrella, says they don't mind.

    After the storm, Dominic takes a taxi up the mountain road to search for them. He finds evidence of a lightning strike, their automobile in a ditch, and Gertrude's lifeless body lying near Veronica's burning umbrella. Veronica crouches in a cave, speaking Sanskrit. Dominic , incredulous, calms her with some familiar Sanskrit expressions before an ambulance arrives.

    At the hospital, Veronica identifies herself as "Rupini," a 7th-century disciple of Chandrakirti, whose work she was copying in the cave when the storm broke out. Bewildered authorities bring experts from Rome's Oriental Institute to examine her. Afterwards, world-famous Sanskrit scholar Professor Giuseppe Tucci (MARCEL IURES) recommends a trip to India to test the factual basis of her statements. She will be put into a deep sleep before leaving and awakened in order to find the cave she spoke of - if it exists.

    Near the frontier of Nepal, they do find the cave. Awakened by a Pandit (ADRIAN PINTEA), Veronica/Rupini clambers up a hillside to the cave's entrance – and faints. When the others enter the cave, they find scattered bones and a decayed manuscript. Perhaps she spoke the truth; perhaps those are her bones; perhaps she is/was Rupini…

    After regaining consciousness, 'Rupini' introduces herself as Veronica Buehler, and recognizes Dominic from their roadside encounter. She is fluent in German, French, and English but denies knowledge of any Oriental language or of a woman called "Rupini."

    Professor Tucci incites a furor by announcing that Veronica was Rupini in an earlier existence-"a clear example of the transmigration of the soul." But Veronica doesn't believe any of this. The media attention upsets her. Now deeply in love, she and Dominic run away from the controversy and the crowds.

    Not long after they settle into a beautiful seaside villa in Malta, Veronica begins experiencing regressive episodes, speaking earlier languages such as ancient Egyptian and Babylonian. Dominic is fascinated and records every utterance, playing them back to her when she reverts to being Veronica again. She begins to believe… something.

    But each episode tires her. The devilish "Double" reappears, urging Dominic to ignore her suffering until she regresses to the proto-language. Then his magnum opus will truly be complete. Dominic acts upon this evil advice, even hiding mirrors so Veronica can't see the unnatural aging process that is ravaging her.

    A change of heart comes after she demands a mirror to see her aging face and grey hair. Dominic now believes he is the catalyst for her regressions, possibly because they loved each other in previous lives. He is stealing her youth, which may return if he departs. She begs him not to leave but, in a final act of love, Dominic disappears from Veronica's life.

    PIATRA NEAMT – 1969
    Dominic returns to his hometown and registers at a small hotel, asking the clerk if the old Café Select still exists. In his room, weary from the journey, he sits on the bed and takes out a small photo. It is of Veronica. He remembers, seeing her step off a train, two children in tow. She is beautiful and still youthful, just as he said she would be. His theory was right. He takes out a manuscript of a scholarly work he has written, and argues violently with his "Double" over the meaning of good and evil, and whether "ends" ever justify "means." The "Double" calls him a failure because he left Veronica before she regressed to the absolute origin of spoken language. Certain of himself, finally, Dominic shatters the mirror, eliminating the apparition from his life.

    Dominic returns to the Café Select where he encounters old friends - or does he? "I am dreaming. It's like the story of the king who was dreaming that he was a butterfly, who dreamed he was king, who dreamed he was a butterfly." His friends assure him he is not dreaming, to which he replies, "But if I'm not dreaming, you would know about Hiroshima, the hydrogen bomb, and Neil Armstrong who walked on the moon." They don't understand…

    Feeling fatigued, Dominic turns to greet another friend - and abruptly becomes an old man, with memory lapses and rattling teeth. He rushes outside, spitting teeth onto the snow-covered street. Next morning, Dominic's frozen body is found in the snow. The voice of his beloved Laura offers him the third rose, and in a moment of grace, it appears – in his outstretched hand.


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