"The Best of Youth"(aka, "La Meglio Gioventu")
[Please note: Accented letters appear here without the diacritical marks because of the sometimes unpredictable way they appear in browsers.]
In America, this film with a total running time of 6 hours is being presented in 2 parts, with individual admission prices for each. And while this saga of two brothers over a time span of nearly 40 years is well made and performed, the value of such a long sitting is arguable. Its better venue might well be the TV mini-series for which it was intended.
It encompasses the pains of maturing, political effects on the family as a foreground representation of a country in turmoil, passions, widening awareness, mortality, love, psychological weakness, and a broad palette of heartache. And, I've left much out. Its storytelling style is as close to the novel form as you'll find on film, both a strengh and a weakness: a value for the intellectual audience; a turnoff for the commercial demographic and the action crowd.
Brothers Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni) have the sort of unbreakable bond that is typical of and gives strength to the Italian disposition. Nicola, a sensitive and studious young man of 1966 has an aquiline handsomeness and a suspected strength of character. Matteo, whose squarer features, firm chin, physical power and sparcity of expression, characteristics that seem designed to set him on his military path, is of a less brainy fiber.
Nicola's post graduate work takes him to a local mental institution where he is assigned to care for a hauntingly attractive young girl, Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) whose delicate mental imbalance produces a withdrawn personality making an emerging therapist's job difficult. Nicola patiently works on bringing her out of her comfort zone of silence and becomes her protector against the system that treats her with electro-shock therapy. So damaging is this in Nicola's mind, that with brother Matteo's help and driven by youthful impulse, he defers their planned vacation travels with friends in order to rescue her from the institution, track down her family, and ultimately learn from her father what brought him to treat her with what Nicola and Matteo see as callous disregard.
This gets the grander scheme of their lives going, but I also found this sequence the most engaging in the epic. Episodes that follow it in a stream-of-life narrative, however, become considerably involving. The changes in the men as a result of their inherent gifts and life choices, as well as the people they encounter and powerful environmental influences is a well observed piece of writing that provides an intriguing flow of interest. Dramatic twists are prevalent enough to keep the engagement level up despite the occasional digression or embellishment.
Though it was conceived for TV, and takes some patience to sit through as a whole, its release in Italy hit boxoffice paydirt, possibly because of its great appeal to the generation who lived through the period and those eager to understand it more fully. Of course, the direction of Marco Tullio Giordana and writers Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli ought not be ignored in terms of its sweeping achievement on a grand scale.