Brothers Across the Italian Divide (Film Review: “The Best of Youth”)

Where do I begin to tell you about a film that is so close to my heart that even silently recalling certain scenes can bring tears to my eyes and make me so very proud to be of Italian descent.  The Best of Youth is such a film, and because I am currently enjoying a wonderful vacation in Sicily – a combination of touring with good friends and visiting wonderful cousins – it seems only fitting to dedicate this week’s post to a film I consider a modern masterpiece.  The Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventu) was originally conceived as a television series and indeed, aired on Italian television in 2008.  It enjoyed such critical acclaim that the director, Marco Tullia Giordana repackaged it with seamless edits into a six hour film.  Give yourself time to enjoy this experience properly, perhaps over the course of a few evenings.  Not only will the hours fly by but I guarantee that you will be left saddened that it ended, that’s how emotionally invested you will have become with these characters and the long arc of their lives.

Publisher Note:  Despite the trailer below, rest assured the entire film is well captured in excellent subtitles in English.

SnapShot Plot

Imagine attempting to tell an intimate story of two brothers, their family and friends, hardships, loves, and even tragedies over the course of almost four decades, from Rome to Milan, Florence, Turin and even Sicily and you’ve got The Best of Youth in a nutshell.  The closest comparison I can make to this film (for those Boomers among us) is that wonderful miniseries on American television so many years ago, Rich Man, Poor Man…but it’s a poor one, considering how intelligent and mature is the subject matter in The Best of Youth.  It’s the Summer of ’63 in Rome when the story begins, and the Carati brothers, Matteo and Nicola, along with their pals, are preparing to take their final university exams and then embark on an adventure together to Scandinavia before starting their adult lives after school.  Nicola is headed for the medical profession while Matteo (despite his dashing good looks and natural sex appeal) is a gifted scholar of poetry and literature who surprises everyone when he takes a temporary job at a nearby sanitorium as an aide companion to a beautiful but troubled patient, Giorgia. Surprise turns to shock when Matteo impulsively springs Giorgia from the institution to accompany them to Norway.  From that point on, you’re carried away on the adventures of the brothers as they arrive at a dividing point in their lives, after which their destinies follow dramatically different paths from whence they began.  Incredibly, we are taken through their lives – mostly in parallel rather than together – over the course of 37 years until 2000 when the film ends on an emotionally convincing yet bittersweet note, leaving much to the imagination as we wonder what the future will hold for the entire family.

Parting Shot

As much as The Best of Youth is a saga of two brothers and their divergent lives, it is just as much a modern story of Italy herself.  Woven into the narrative, we realize we’re observing a country beginning to embrace the vitality and sexual liberation of the sixties, struggling against the oppression of an Old World view at odds with changing times, and dealing with the turbulent politics of the day as  exemplified by the terrorism of the Red Brigade, a period of time all too familiar to Italians, even now.  It is at times sublime and heartbreaking.  The music is beautiful and haunting.  The backdrops are breathtaking with a sweeping panorama that illustrates the beauty of Italy, while the struggles of one family take on epic proportions in the deepest recesses of our hearts.  This is a film that leaves a permanent impression……an unforgettable experience worth savoring and veramente worth sharing.

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