La meglio gioventù
Review of The Best of Youth (2003), dir. Marco Tullio Giordana
“You, Hector, will be honored with tears
wherever blood shed for the motherland is
holy and revered, as long as the Sun
shines upon sorrows of mankind.”
(Ugo Foscolo, Dei Sepolcri)
Following in the footsteps of such award-winning Italian movies as La dolce vita (The Sweet life, 1960), Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (The New Paradise Cinema, 1988), and La vita è bella (The life is beautiful, 1997), La meglio gioventù (The Best of Youth, 2003) has been awarded 19 prizes at numerous film festivals all over the world.
The whole craze began when Marco Tullio Giordana found his way to take the movie to the Cannes Festival in 2003. Shown as a six-hour movie, it enraptured critics and went home with the top prize. Later, more awards were added to the collection, e.g. César Award in France for Best European Union Film, Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle International Film Festival for Best Director, Rotterdam’s and Denver’s Audience Awards, and, last but not least, the David di Donatello prize, which is the Italian Oscar equivalent, for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Producer, Best Sound, and Best Ensemble Cast.
But let me comment on the content rather than on the prizes. In the beginning, you will meet two smart and handsome brothers: Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio), a free-spirited medical graduate, and Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni), an introvert bookworm. Throughout the movie you will get to know their whole family - parents, Angelo (Andrea Tidona) and Adriana (Adriana Asti), older sister Giovanna (Lidia Vitale), little sister Francesca (Valentina Carnelutti) and their close friends.
Matteo and Nicola represent the innocence of impetuous youth. Their idealism compels them to rescue and take home a teenage girl Giorgia (Jasmine Trince), who is treated inhumanly in an institute for mentally disturbed people. Just like Giorgia stimulates compassion and will-power to change the world in them, they both feel something special for her, be it a pure affection or innocent love. However, their enthusiasm experiences a first obstacle when Giorga's father tells them he is unable of taking care of her. Consequently, Giorgia is put back to the asylum.
This experience changes the course of their lives. Nicola is ready to travel and backpack in Norway, expecting freedom and excitement. Despite some hindrances, he finally specialises in psychiatry and attempts to make a root-and-branch reform of the health-care system. Matteo struggles with self-control problems and his own weird temperament. Though gifted and perceptive, he eventually seeks refuge in becoming a police officer. Both brothers are bonded by blood, but different in their souls. Whereas Nicola disappears from the society for a brief period and intellectually flourishes, Matteo resigns himself to passivity, rejects passionate love and suffers.
Following these two divergent paths, you may witness the most turbulent events in the recent Italian history: beginning in 1966 with the floods in Florence, continuing with the barbaric practice of electroshock therapies in the mental illness treatment, the student rallies and uproarious demonstrations of 1968, the following years of horror caused by the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist-inspired terrorist group, bank robberies, political assassinations, bombings and killings of several judges, lawyers and politicians.
Nicola and Matteo´s lives are inseparably intertwined in such a way that it sometimes seems as if they swapped personalities. When, for instance, Matteo meets Mirella (Maya Sansa), an attractive photographer in Palermo, and she curiously asks him what his name is, he replies at once, “Nicola”. A few years later, Matteo and Mirella will come across each other in the library in Rome. They have a romantic affair during which Matteo still keeps on pretending he is Nicola. Then something heartbreaking happens, which I would rather keep secret. This event is only one of the numerous moments in which The Best of Youth imposes its peculiar, deep, but grandiose power.
Every piece of art, be it a poem, a song, or a movie, reminds us of powerful beauty that can leave a profound mark on our lives. Personally, I have seen The Best of Youth several times but never got tired of its marvellous atmosphere, relaxing songs, melancholic music, picturesque scenery, and the countryside of Florence, Rome, Turin, Sicily and the island of Stromboli. To make a long story short, the movie is simply breath-taking, unforgettable, perfectly directed and brilliantly acted by everyone.
This masterpiece of social realism and family saga may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, though its stirring moments should definitely enter the hearts of sensitive spectators. Eventually, six hours will seem not enough to rejoice, to grieve and to understand. The movie should not be missed by anyone who cares about complicated human psyche surrounded by exhilarating joys, gloomy sorrows, trickiness of love and challenging aspects of life. The Best of Youth ends up with a lovely tune echoing the last words: “Everything is really beautiful.”