The Best of Youth Movie Review
The first (and last) thing that people know of Best of Youth is that it is six hours long. This is indeed true. But rather than a deterrent, this should actually serve as an enticement - it's a film that has room to relax. Best of Youth starts with two brothers who come of age in Rome during the golden year of 1966. There's scooters on which they can zip about the graciously aging city, American R&B tootling out of radios everywhere, friendly prostitutes to relieve them of burdensome virginity, and, in short, their whole lives in front of them.
Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni) grabs our attention first: an eagle-eyed, stalwart lad with a sharp, Cillian Murphy edge and a boundless melancholy verging on arrogance. When not studying up for his college exams, he helps out at a mental health clinic, where he becomes interested in a young, pretty inmate - for prisoners they are - named Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) whom he's convinced is being mistreated. Matteo and his brother, the gentler and more empathic medical student Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio), are due to leave for a trip north with a couple of friends after exams are done. Matteo, after simply deciding not to bother finishing exams, steals Giorgia out of the asylum and brings her along on the trip, determined to find her family.
It initially comes off as a rough and rather overdone start to the film, but director Marco Tulio Giordano handles it well by applying the same rule he applies through the rest of the film: no simple conclusions. Best of Youth moves with its own unpredictable rhythms and strange anti-climaxes. Giorgia isn't happily reunited with her family, Matteo abandons the group trip on a whim, and Nicola ends up wandering about with hippies in Norway. Matteo ends up joining the police while Nicola becomes a psychiatrist, falling in love with a political activist. The brothers meet again, fall out of touch, and one even dies well before the film concludes, haunting the remainder with his memory.
This is the way of Angelo Barbagallo's big grab bag of story, charted in strange arcs and loops that consistently ignore the obvious and instead return to the real. The decades pass, the characters aging almost forty years (gracefully, no hellacious makeup or obvious wigs) in the process, some family members die, others falling off the map for long stretches, building a story that's less like fiction and more like the way that families (and countries) actually age.
The Best of Youth aims at the epic and makes it there, but more for scope of vision and generosity of spirit than for an urge to make grand statements. There are large swaths of history on display here, from the Red Brigade terrors of the 1970s to the Sicilian anti-Mafia campaign of the early 1990s, with the Carati family and friends frequently major players on both sides of these events. But easy points aren't scored and characters are never reduced to symbols. This is a truly massive film that remains intimate, an imposing edifice constructed of little moments of truth. If there's a criticism that must be made of the filmmakers, it could be that the characters are perhaps too unrelentingly talented and unique, the landscapes too breathtaking. Let us be cursed with more films which make these mistakes.
Aka La Meglio gioventù,
And the worst of the youth.