THE BEST OF YOUTH directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, with Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Sonia Bergamasco and Jasmine Trinca. An Alliance Atlantis release. 366 minutes. Subtitled. Part One opens Friday (May 13), Part Two opens May 27. For venues and times, see Movies, page 102. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The best of youth is a six-hour epic screened in two three-hour parts. Originally broadcast on Italian TV, it looks at three and a half decades in an Italian family's life. But don't let any of that - the length, the subtitles, the TV connection - scare you away.
The six hours pass like a dream, and apart from a few false notes, the film never becomes melodramatic. There's nothing like it on U.S. or Canadian TV. As with a page-turning family saga novel, the characters' stories and lives burrow deep into your imagination.
We first meet the Carati brothers as students in 1966. Partier Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) is half-heartedly studying medicine, while the more serious Matteo (Alessio Boni) is immersed in literature. After Matteo rescues the stunning Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) from an inhumane mental hospital and the brothers try unsuccessfully to return her to her family, their lives take huge turns.
Nicola, who has a calming, sensitive rapport with the fragile Giorgia, becomes a socially progressive psychiatrist, and the hardened Matteo enlists in the army and later joins the police.
Over the decades, their lives intersect in surprising ways: during the floods in Florence, the student protests, Sicilian Mafia scandals and the rise of the Red Brigades, a terrorist organization that (in the film's least convincing plot thread) draws Nicola's high-strung wife, Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco), away from her loving family.
Giorgia, who acts as the film's protective angel, also makes several reappearances to knit the brothers' lives together.
The fine-looking film lacks the operatic scope and underlying themes of, say, The Godfather films. It's also a bit of a letdown to discover in the end that its main message is "Life is beautiful." And despite its fairly liberal, tolerant tone, it's telling that in three generations of an Italian family there's not one queer to be found. (Interestingly, Nicola testifies in court that homosexuality is not a disease, yet doesn't balk at his buddies' homophobic jokes.)
But like life, The Best Of Youth - which needs to be seen on a big screen - is made up of small, truthful moments that stay in your mind. Nicola's trip to Norway - where he grows a beard, strips naked and hears hippies recite Ginsberg's Howl - is one. Another occurs when the intense-eyed Giulia tries to abandon her family in the middle of the night and a quietly whispering Nicola blocks her way.
Perhaps most affecting are the two parallel scenes where the self-loathing Matteo drives by people he loves without acknowledging them.