June 24, 2005

The Best of Youth

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana Starring Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Marco Tullio Giordana’s The Best of Youth almost seems like the seguito to Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. Just as Bertolucci’s five-hour film encompasses the first half of 20th century Italian history, Giordana’s six-hour effort covers the second. Both sagas employ symbolic protagonists with contrasting personalities and fates, a tradition seen in Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers and Gianni Amelio’s The Way We Laughed. And like Marco Bellocchio’s films, The Best of Youth addresses the impact of major historical incidents by using the family as a microcosm of society.

The film tracks brothers Matteo (Alessio Boni) and Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio) as one transforms from sensitive dreamer to world-weary cop while the other from idealist hippie to humanist doctor. After discovering a scar from electric shock treatments on patient Georgia (Jasmine Trinca) at the mental institution where Matteo works, the twenty-something siblings jettison their vacation plans to help her escape and return to her countryside home. The men would part ways and later reunite for the rescue effort following the 1966 Florence flood – where Nicola would fall for Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco), a radical activist who eventually turns into a La Femme Nikita-esque Red Brigade assassin. Her first assignment is none other than the brothers’ buddy/in-law Carlo (Fabrizio Gifuni), who would rise to prominence at the Bank of Italy. The eldest Carati sister Giovanna (Lidia Vitale) would also become a judge and finds herself in the midst of the 1992 Palermo massacre.

Originally intended as an RAI miniseries, The Best of Youth is showing theatrically in two parts. In addition to bracing for its prodigious length, those not too familiar with the Italian storia may want to do some extra homework in order to fully appreciate it. The six-hour running time shouldn’t faze seasoned moviegoers, as the film is immensely absorbing. But while it starts off as provocative in spite of its implausibility, the story wanders off halfway through when the history turns uneventful. As it sets course toward a happy ending, the film becomes increasingly trivial with the characters celebrating their dolce vita in an expensive villa and amusing themselves mocking Vito Corleone. The final surrealist tracking shot again tries to evoke Bellocchio, yet Giordana uses it to convey sentimentality rather than scrutiny. In the end, The Best of Youth is too apolitical for its subject matter and too lightweight for its length.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.