Film is director's first since 1997

The new United Artists led by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner is in talks to acquire “Youth Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola’s first film since 1997’s “Rainmaker.” Move would reunite Coppola with Cruise, whom he cast as an unknown in his 1983 pic “The Outsiders.” UA had no comment.

Coppola adapted, produced and directed “Youth Without Youth” from the 1976 novel by Romanian-born religious historian Mircea Eliade. Coppola screened the film on Feb. 22 for friends in the Bay Area, including Carroll Ballard and George Lucas.

He showed the pic to individual distributors in Los Angeles on Friday and over the weekend. Reaction has been mixed, but several distribs were pursuing the project, being shopped the old-fashioned way by Coppola attorney Barry Hirsch.

Inspired by his daughter Sofia to make a low-budget personal film, Coppola may have skipped the festival route of selling the movie after witnessing the stir that her pic “Marie Antoinette” faced at Cannes last May.

Financed independently with foreign pre-sales from Pathe Intl. and funds from Coppola’s own winery, the $5 million film, which Coppola shot last winter in Romania, stars Tim Roth as a 70-year-old who is struck by lightning and suddenly gets younger and more brilliant. His quest: to understand the origin of language and consciousness. By movie’s end, he and the love of his life (Alexandra Maria Lara) are literally speaking in tongues. Bruno Ganz also stars, and Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance.

“Youth Without Youth” is both “intellectually challenging and emotionally remote,” said one acquisitions exec at a studio subsid. Another distrib likened the film to an arty “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

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