Monday, June 19, 2006

The Best of Youth

2003, Italy, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana (original title: La Meglio gioventù)

Originally conceived as a mini-series for Italian television, and then given a theatrical release instead, The Best of Youth is a remarkable family saga set against the changes in Italy over the period from 1966 to 2003. While the factual backdrop - the 1966 Florence floods, 1970's student activisim in Turin, the Red Brigades, the assassination of Judge Falcone in Sicily, and so on - is fascinating, the film is ultimately more interested in domestic affairs, most specifically in the portrait of two brothers, Nicola and Matteo, and their divergent careers and outlooks. It's an exceptionally warm, generous piece of work: generous in running time, but also in its view of its main characters, who are given the time and latitude to make mistakes, without ever losing their essential dignity. Over the course of six hours, those characters are so appealing that it's hard to immediately accept the film's most shocking moment: I wasn't able to process that development for several seconds, so jarring was its effect. As with most family dramas, there are inevitable moments of soap opera given the need for continual plot development, while the ending isn't all that hard to predict, but those are minor quibbles given the overall skill and care with which the story is told; the direction has all the hallmarks of old-fashioned craftsmanship. For the most part, the acting, too, is excellent (although some of the actors are a little too fresh-faced to entirely convince in the later stages), while the rich vein of humour conveys the bonds of family and friendship in deeply rewarding fashion.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States