Toronto International Film Festival
Spanning four decades in late 20th century Italy, Marco Tullio Giordana
's "The Best of Youth" (La Meglio Gioventu) focuses on the intimate lives of two brothers who take divergent paths, as well as those of friends, lovers and children whose ideals are challenged by events and tragedies in their lives.
Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli
approach their screenplay in a novelistic manner, using a six-hour-plus running time to layer in the details of these lives. This recent Miramax acquisition was originally filmed for Italian television, which explains the length of a movie presented theatrically in two parts. The film proved a major theatrical hit in Italy, but its length limits North American boxoffice to dedicated cineastes and festivalgoers. They will be amply rewarded.
The film begins in 1966, the year of the flood in Florence that brought out legions of young people determined to save that city's heritage of art and literature. It ends in the present day, which contains the film's only hint of magic realism. These years encompass the political upheaval of 1968 in Western Europe, where young people felt they could change the world
the tragedy of terrorism in the 1970s
the ups and downs of the economy
the Falcone assassination in 1992
and diversion of many characters' energies into family life and coming to terms with feelings of alienation and regret.
Of the brothers we meet in 1966, Matteo (Alessio Boni
) is the more withdrawn and sullen, a man sensitive to the wrongs of society but one prone to fits of temper and frustration when things don't go his way. Nicola Luigi Lo Cascio
) is more open and loving, at ease with women but reserved, engaged with the world and a seeker of love.
At a job in a mental hospital, Matteo meets Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca
), a severely disturbed young woman who is being given electroshock therapy, the barbarity of which outrages him. When he, his brother and two pals take off on a summer trip to Norway, Matteo kidnaps Giorgia with the vague idea of rescuing her and returning her to her family. Only the family doesn't want her, and police pick her up at a train station.
Discouraged, Matteo abandons Nicola to return to Rome and impulsively joins the army rather than continuing with his studies. Nicola makes his way to Norway, where, out of money, he takes work in a lumber mill. He returns home to help in the flood in Florence, where he meets Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco
), a free-spirited woman who becomes his lover and mother of his child, Sara.
Perhaps inspired by his encounter with Giorgia, Nicola pursues a career in psychiatry in Turin. Meanwhile, Matteo's career in the army and police -- jobs he seeks because they have "rules" -- is often jeopardized by a rebellious streak and violent behavior.
While on duty in Sicily in the late '70s, Matteo meets Mirella (Maya Sansa
), a young photographer he will later encounter in Rome. They have a brief affair before tragedy overtakes Matteo. Meanwhile, Giulia becomes increasingly radicalized and deserts Nicola and Sara to enter the shadowy world of terrorism. Eventually, Nicola is faced with the decision of whether to aid police in capturing his ex-lover before she kills someone.
Perhaps the strongest influence here is Francois Truffaut in his early "Jules et Jim" period. For Giordana is less interested in social and political history than in how people fall in and out of love, how families operate and the role friendships play in the characters' lives. Giordana moves beyond psychology, viewing characters' behavior without trying to fully understand or explain them.
Lo Cascio and Boni inhabit their roles with keen intellectual and emotional vigor. Bergamasco and Sansa deliver sensitive portraits of conflicted women who struggle to bridge the gap between personal desires and responsibilities to others.
Production designer Franco Ceraolo
and cinematographer Roberto Forza
, shooting in Super 16mm, ably convey the changing landscape of Italy. The film's soundtrack consists in large measure of terrific pop songs from different eras.
THE BEST OF YOUTH
Rai Radiotelevisione Italiana presents a Rai Fiction production
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Screenwriters: Sandro Petraglia
, Stefano Rulli
Producer: Angelo Barbagallo
Director of photography: Roberto Forza
Production designer: Franco Ceraolo
Costume designer: Elisabetta Montaldo
Editor: Roberto Missiroli
Nicola: Luigi Lo Cascio
Matteo: Alessio Boni
Giulia: Sonia Bergamasco
Mirella: Maya Sansa
Francesca: Valentina Carnelutti
Giorgia: Jasmine Trinca
Angelo: Andrea Tidona
Running time -- 373 minutes
No MPAA rating