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Best of Youth, The
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by Jason Whyte

"Here's to life!"
5 stars

Having the privilege of witnessing a great film through a film festival, screener tape or special screening can be a joyous event, but it can also make one sad; that this is the only way to see the film and the rest of the country is seeing crap like The Ring Two and The Pacifier. I wish more people could have the opportunity to see what may possibly become the very best film of the year, a story about the strengths of brotherhood and the bonds that two men make over the course over nearly 40 years of Italian history.

“The Best of Youth” was originally intended to air as a mini-series on Italian television in the summer of 2003, but did not work out with broadcasters. Soon after, it found a theatrical distributor and was released to theatres in Italy where it played successfully. It then found itself a popular spot on the festival circuit, playing Telluride, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver to great response by anyone who had a chance to view it. Finally, Miramax acquired the American rights and is finally starting to have its stateside distribution this spring. Demand to see this film.

Where to begin with the story? I don’t know how I could fit the decades of events that occur over the course of the story, but the main focus belongs to two brothers of a large family, Matteo (Alesso Boni) and Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) who are just leaving high school when we first meet them in 1966. Their future is unknown for both of them, and they know it; the film’s opening scenes show Matteo struggling with his literature classes while Nicola is doing volunteer work to become a psychiatrist. Nicola meets a mental patient named Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) and the two make an interesting connection. When Matteo meets her, he is also attracted and decides to spring her from the institution to take her to her father in Norway.

This is the point where we really feel the bonds breaking. Giorgia is found wandering by the police and is taken away, but says nothing about who is with her. This enrages both Nicola and Matteo but both realize that nothing can be done. Matteo then decides, instantly, to leave Nicola and enlist in the Italian army. Meanwhile, Nicola continues his travels into Norway (at one point, he meets an American hippie on a ferry who says that he escaped to Europe because of the draft) and finds himself at a small logging facility where he starts to work. There’s an amusing moment where Nicola is so high in the north that he doesn’t realize that, at the part of the year he’s there, that there is constant sunlight and has difficulty getting to sleep.

Nicola and Matteo’s paths meet again in Florence in the aftermath of a major flood, where Matteo is doing relief work with the army and Nicola has come back to help volunteer (his reasoning seems to simply be because of support of his country, and as the scene unfolds we see many others from all over Italy helping as well). At this point, Nicola meets a young woman named Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco) who is also volunteering. They meet and fall in love instantly, even have a child together, but slowly we learn about her secret terrorist background and her quest for political upheaval.

Matteo is moving on a path of his own. Eventually being fed up with the army, he joins the police force with the belief that he and his colleagues can make change in Italy. He turns up in Sicily to work at the precinct there, and meets Mirella (Maya Sansa), a librarian who likes the quirky Matteo. Their first meeting is brief, but their relationship slowly develops when they meet again at an old library. Or does it? Matteo wants people to believe that he is making change, but slowly starts to deteriorate when he knows he is failing.

At this point I should mention that this is merely the first half of the film. It is only the set-up to Part Two, which follows every character all the way until the end through the perspectives of Nicola and Matteo. The film’s director, Marco Tullio Giordana, never shys away from any of the material; he takes his time, and as well he should because the people and the time are so interesting and demand it. He has created a kind of personal epic that is rare in this medium today.

“The Best of Youth” is not a timid film. It is telling about the political and cultural aspects of Italy over three decades. Bonds are made, lives destroyed and not everything works out in the end, and I sense that it is not something that Italian viewers would be comfortable sitting through. The ever-lasting sense of doom and inability to change society has a lasting impression on Matteo, who has deep psychological problems and the inability to let anyone incredibly close to him; what exactly is gnawing at him is not clearly explained to the audience, but that’s kind of the point. Sometimes, some people just get a chip on their shoulder because their failures destroy them inside.

Where the film succeeds is the complete celebration of life. We really do feel that these people exist and they are living life. The film moves at an unpredictable pace and the initial threat of the long running time simply floats away. Yes, the running time is over six hours long. And it is subtitled. That may sound difficult, but how did you react when you first heard about the Godfather saga’s running time, or the length of The Lord of the Rings? You were most likely reluctant, but you soon found yourself enchanted after beginning the film, and you didn’t want it to end. This film is spread into two separate parts, so at the very least, there’s an intermission.

The problem is, a movie at this length, at this scope and grandeur, may not see the light in more theatres. It may not even open anywhere but large cities. I’m hoping that the word can spread; it is a special film that demands to be seen with a captivated audience in a huge movie theatre, not just on the DVD format. In an era where a stupid horror film can make over $40 million in its first weekend in the box office, The Best of Youth is a great piece of cinema that is worth fighting to see.

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originally posted: 04/02/05 03:49:16
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User Comments

9/08/07 Max Generally I watch it at Friday night because I can't stop watching. 5 stars
8/28/07 Josephine To miss this film would be a tragedy 5 stars
7/26/07 Ducky A cinematic masterpiece 5 stars
5/04/07 Alessandro To see it is to be privileged. 5 stars
1/24/07 Teo I hope this movie helps you Americans in overcoming stereotypes on Italy 5 stars
1/09/07 Butt Stop what you're doing and go rent this 5 stars
3/02/06 Warren stunning film. i was truly skepitcal but you really don't want it to end. 5 stars
1/29/06 Helen It touched my heart. 5 stars
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  02-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 07-Feb-2006



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