Giuseppe Tucci in Youth Without Youth by F. Ford Coppola: A Must See

Back in 2007, long before I published the first biography on Tucci, L’esploratore del Duce (1st ed. 2012), I watched the movie Youth Without Youth, written and directed here in Milan by F. Ford Coppola

I found the film, and still do, to be very moving. It is a reworking of a novel, of the same name, by the Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade. The film features Dominique Matei as its central protagonist (and indeed, the English translation and the introduction of the novel was written by Matei Calinescu) and is a true glorification of the Oriental disciplines. What’s amazing is that the girlfriend of Dominique, after undergoing shock, begins to speak Sanskrit. And who do they call in as an interpreter? Giuseppe Tucci himself—a friend, in real life, of Mircea Eliade.

In Youth without Youth, Tucci is defined as the highest authority of European Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy—which indeed was the case. He was also presented as the president of IsMEO—which, though its doors are now shut, was at time of the film (in the mid-to-late 1930s) quite prosperous and active.

In truth, the founder and president of the powerful institute of IsMEO was Senator Giovanni Gentile, until his murder in April 1944, by a partisan group. Tucci, instead, served as its executive vice president, until his purge and the compulsory administration of the institute, in 1944. In fact IsMEO and Rome had been elected by the Duce as the “spiritual and ideal guide of Italy and the world.” This is the reason why I call Tucci the explorer, scholar and political “Indiana Jones” of Mussolini.

I was quite excited to see Tucci portrayed so similarly to his real self, with the same style and elegance, (only taller), and with the same immense intelligence. Tucci’s assistant in the film is one of my former professors, and a former assistant of Corrado Pensa. Pensa was a student of Tucci’s, and would follow him in his role as professor of Religions and Philosophies of India and the Far East (though for many years he’s been a well-known master of vipassana meditation).

The film, to be perfectly honest, is nothing extraordinary. It is too fragmented. But I do believe it important that a director and producer of the likes of F. Ford Coppola shows interest in Sanskrit, Chinese and Oriental studies, and gives Giuseppe Tucci the role he deserves…and Mircea Eliade, of course.

For this reason, and for its deep fascination with the Eastern disciplines—which is on display in every sequence—the movie is undoubtedly worth seeing. There’s really nothing so mysterious or so exotic about studying the Oriental disciplines: only long hours of study, intense effort and a wealth of talent. But after so many years of hard work, it is clear that this field of study has opened us up to new worlds, distant and extraordinarily rich, that before, quite tragically, held no place in our hearts.

The Author

Enrica Garzilli Enrica Garzilli is a scholar of classical and modern Asia. Harvard Alumna, she holds a degree in Sanskrit and Indology from the Oriental School in Rome, where she studied with Tucci’s most famous disciples. She has taught in leading Universities, and regularly publishes in national and international newspapers, magazines, and TV.

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