‘Best of Youth’: six-hour film is time well spent
July 8, 2005
Perhaps the greatest triumph of Italian director Marco Tullio Giordana’s “The Best of Youth” is its structure. No matter how good the characters, the story, the cinematography, a six-hour film requires a certain architecture, a way of presenting itself, to sustain its stability over the long stretch.”The Best of Youth” is ingeniously designed. In one sense, it plays like an epic novel, following its two main characters, a pair of Italian brothers, from their teens into middle age. It has the scope of a novel, tying a whole world – in this case, the Italian experience from the mid-’60s to the present – to the lives of Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni). Viewers will get a broad sense of Italy’s social upheavals, regional disparities and political movements over the past four decades.
“The Best of Youth” simultaneously has the feel of being divided into chapters, making for easier digestion. Certain romantic involvements, family relationships and workplace episodes get their stretches of practically undivided attention. Having six hours to work with, Giordana has the time to make these various stories stand on their own. Yet he also never strays far from his set of core characters, so each individual strand adds to the strength of the whole. And when new characters – Nicola’s daughter, Sara (Camilla Filippi); the brothers’ childhood friend, Carlo (Fabrizio Gifuni) – are thrust into prominence well into the film, Giordana makes sure they receive proper development.”The Best of Youth” starts with an episode that is almost a film within the film. Nicola, looking toward a career as a social psychiatrist, takes a job at a mental institution. A sensitive young man, Nicola is anguished by the situation of Giorgia, a young woman who has been numbed by electroshock therapy. Nicola and Matteo, his younger, book-loving brother, are supposed to rendezvous with two friends for a summer of fun; instead, they abduct Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) and embark on a very different sort of road trip.
This structural technique works on several levels. It introduces, at length and without interruption, the film’s two principal characters. Its straight-forward narrative draws us in; it doesn’t feel as if we’re in for a six-hour marathon. But, the sequence familiarizes us with just about everything that is to come: family, politics, and the institutionalizing of psychiatric patients, a topic which seems of priority to Giordana and the screenwriters.Finally, the story of Giorgia establishes what I see as the primary theme of “The Best of Youth,” the tension between connecting and separating ourselves from others. Throughout four decades, four generations of the Carati family feel the effects of coming closer to or putting distance between friends, lovers, strangers, co-workers, children and parents. It is not by chance that the characters continually traipse from Turin to Rome to Palermo and back; their physical movement mirrors the emotional connections and gaps.
It is a sufficiently broad theme on which to hang the equivalent of three regular-sized movies. And the well-built “The Best of Youth” is surely worth the effort and time.”The Best of Youth” shows in two parts, Sunday and Monday, July 10-11, at Paepcke Auditorium, as part of the SummerFilms series.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org