After enjoying one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood, you’ve decided to go the art-house route and make “Youth Without Youth,” a Romanian fable about an age-defying linguist and his lover who is reincarnated as a seventh-century Indian. Is the film intended for a mass audience? No, not at all.
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How much did it cost to make? Under $15 million.
Do you care if you earn the money back? No. When I finished “The Rainmaker,” I thought, This is the last movie I am going to do basically as a job for money.
That was your last film, and it was made 10 years ago. You’re right. The clock is ticking.
Your new film is based on a philosophical novella of the same name by Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian scholar who believed archaic religions created a kind of time-outside-of-time. That’s his big book, “The Myth of the Eternal Return.” What I understand of it is that all things come back in some sort of cycle that is regenerative. Or, in the words of the Lion King, it’s the circle of life.
How are you going to be an indie director if you compare your work with “The Lion King”? God, I think you’re right. I am sure the Eliade notion was more subtle. They said about Eliade that he never had a thought he didn’t publish, so there are about 400 books he wrote.
His reputation has been tainted by his politics. He was one of several well-known Romanian intellectuals who reportedly had fascist leanings and supported the Iron Guard in the ’30s. Does that make you uncomfortable? It’s sort of like saying my grandfather was an Italian fascist. In those days, in 1937, or even earlier, all the Italians were fascists. It might have been like the Communist thing in this country. If you were young in the ’30s, and very humanistic, you might have flirted with Communism, and then it came to haunt you.
No, Communism was rooted in a utopian vision, the Iron Guard was rooted in hatred. Well, there were people who felt that the Communist effort in the ’20s and ’30s among our writers was orchestrated by Stalin, but the people who got into it I’m sure got into it for idealistic reasons.
It’s hard for me to talk about this with you, because my father was born in Romania and fled as a child in 1938. That’s like going to Miami and talking about Cuba. Oh, boy, is that tricky.
Yes. Are you religious? I think I am very religious.
You’re an observant Catholic? Oh, no, no, no. I was raised as a Catholic, but I didn’t like the Catholic Church at all. I thought the nuns were mean.
Do you believe in the afterlife? I sort of think that the people I have loved and lost are somehow still there. I can’t believe that something so specific is gone.
If you were given the chance to relive your life, like the hero of your latest film, would you do it? It would be the same life. When I die, I am not going to be there saying, Oh, I wish I had done this, and I wish I had done that. Because I did it.
You must regret some things. Are there any movies you regret making, like “Jack”? “Jack” is sort of fun. I would do “Jack” again. Movie-wise, there is nothing I wouldn’t do again. It’s not possible to make one perfect movie every time. I don’t know of anyone who has done it. I guess Kurosawa has come the closest.
You sound very analyzed. I never went to a psychologist or psychiatrist in my life. Never. You know Italians are a little prejudiced against that kind of thing.
We haven’t mentioned “The Godfather.” Is there anything left to be said about it? I am very proud of “The Godfather,” and it is obviously what I will be remembered for. I don’t care.
Is there something you would prefer to be remembered for? If I have to be remembered for something, I want it remembered that I really liked children and was a good camp counselor.
Interview by Deborah Solomon, published in New York Times