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Francis Ford Coppola galvanized the Rome Film Festival, where his “Youth Without Youth” world-preemed to mixed reaction, prompting plenty of debate over the film, while Coppola’s meetings with press and public left no doubt about his personal ability to charm.

The 68-year-old helmer’s return to filmmaking after a decade, with a complex, personal work centered around a 70-year-old Romanian linguistics professor who is struck by lightning and rejuvenated, gave the fest a real jolt.

As deeply divided opinions zinged through the halls of Rome’s Auditorium Parco Della Musica, the fest’s hub, Coppola said at the press conference on Saturday he wasn’t worried about snap judgments regarding “Youth,” a film dense with philosophical considerations, which he described as “a metaphysical fable, but also a great love story.”

“I don’t think artists can make films worried about what the immediate reaction is; they can only hope that perhaps the audience will find them interesting,” Coppola said .

“I think we should be tolerant of artists who want to break new ground, and not require them to make gangster films all their lives,” he went on to add, drawing a burst of applause.

“Youth,” starring Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, and Matt Damon (in a cameo), will be released in Italy by BIM on Friday. Gallic outing follows on Nov. 14, while the U.K. and U.S. release date is Dec. 14, via Pathe and Sony Classics, respectively.

Besides amiably tub-thumping his pic, Coppola also used the Rome presser to reaffirm his admiration for Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson, after a swirl of reports based on a GQ interview — which he said is being quoted out of context — suggested he viewed the three stars as spoiled by their success.

“I have nothing but respect and admiration for them,” he said.

“As for Pacino and De Niro, I didn’t make them; they made me.”

Later in the day, Coppola reminisced about his career during a packed public onstage conversation following the screening of his wife Eleanor’s “Coda: Thirty Years Later,” a doc shot in Romania on the “Youth” set, and also a followup to her “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.”

As for his upcoming projects, Coppola told Variety he used “Youth” — based on a short story by Romania’s Mircea Eliade — “to get back into the groove and get enthusiastic about making films again.” Now, his objective is “to cross the bridge into making a movie from an original idea, since the last time I did that was “The Conversation,” he said.

The project that will mark that crossing is his upcoming Buenos Aires-set “Tetro,” which Matt Dillon may be forced to bow out of due to time constraints dictated by the WGA strike threat.

“We may be forced to cast some other great actor that you know of.”

Coppola described “Tetro,” which is skedded to start shooting in February, as “a story of brothers and fathers, and that whole male competitive line within a family that has creative people in it.”

Meanwhile, his Zoetrope Argentina, which is financing, is in advanced negotiations with Javier Bardem to join the “Tetro” cast, while another Spanish thesp, Maribel Verdu (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”), is attached.

Coppola said the recent robbery in Buenos Aires at his home/office complex, where his computers were stolen, will not delay production plans.

“I lost about a year of mainly photographs and personal stuff; but scripts and stuff like that we didn’t lose,” he said.