La Meglio Gioventù (2003)

Wow. Think Forrest Gump, 6 hours long, two brothers, Italy, 1966-2003. This epic is was recommended to me by the NY Times Movie Reviews a year ago. It garnered awards at several film festivals, including Cannes. The Best of Youth is so good that Amber and I religiously watched it over 3 nights, even though we have a newborn and sleep is short.

From the get go, you are drawn into different eras through hairstyles, clothing, music, cars, archival TV footage and other cultural references. The history of Italy is a joy to watch unfold, though painful as you watch a natural disaster, major layoffs, Red Brigade terrorism, crackdown on the mafia, and major court decisions. You also see Rome, Florence, Turin, Sicily and Norway to boot. What is important to note is that all of this (events, locations) happens in the background and is not the central focus of the film, though the protagonists are deeply affected by them. The director isn't trying to teach the audience some recent Italian history, but simply use it as a common point of reference (for Italian viewers) and as a colourful palette (more so for non-Italians). What is central are the struggles and relationships that are formed and broken with lovers, parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, friends, and patients.

The writing is full of the usual cues - the seers and the sirens especially - but they are not predictable, they are human too. You see the flawed characters make decisions that you know are bad and that you know will hurt each other, but you know why they make them. Primarily, the two brothers, Matteo and Nicola, share a heartbreaking experience early in their lives, but respond in very different ways. Their response sets the tone for their entire lives.

Glaringly vacant in the film was a predominant Roman Catholic faith. The main characters were generally secular and the church has hinted at only a couple of times.

What was really striking to me was the gentleness of the film. Even the harsh events portrayed in La Meglio Gioventù were depicted calmly, as though an unmovable force were grounding it. I found that this tone allowed for an easier process. There is one scene at about the 4 hour mark that is truly painful, but it allows you to continue and heal with the characters over the next couple hours.

Lastly, it is a joy to watch the flamboyancy of the Italian male. It was great to see an employer walk arm in arm with his male employee - nothing erotic, just fraternal affection (mind you this was in the 60's). The kiss greeting between friends is also charming. The friends of the main characters are deeply honest with each other, guarding each other's honour. They are also very, very funny.

Watch this film! You'll laugh and cry and wish it wouldn't end.

Official Site | IMDB | Buy the DVD

1 comment:

Amber said...

This film was so good I'm afraid it's ruined the chances of any others being this fantastic. I was so sad when it was over.