Published Jun 01, 2005In a film landscape blighted by casual cynicism and jackhammer affectation, The Best of Youth stands defiantly alone. The sprawling six-hour-plus, two-part Italian epic politely but firmly refuses to give in to prevailing aesthetic trends, reviving a gentle humanism that looks brand new for being all by itself.
The Best of Youth's brother protagonists, Nicola and Matteo, are bedevilled not by problems of simple revenge, but by how to serve the common good and oneself at the same time. Part One begins in the smoking cauldron of the '60s, where as young men, they are first tormented by the problem of a mentally disturbed girl abused in her asylum; then they split on the growing left/right chasm, with one becoming a small-r radical and the other joining the army and the police.
But despite its liberal instincts, the film rejects a Manichean good/evil split and shows how people choose their politics for reasons of convenience and deep-seated hurt. By the time Nicola's life partner has split for the Red Brigade, the film has refined and complicated how we understand people's convictions.
Part Two picks up in 1980 after the brothers' dies have been cast, and as it moves forward it shows how they try to adapt to a world that refuses to stand still: Nicola's wife is tormented by her decision to abandon her daughter, Nicola watches a judge friend threatened by the Mafia he's pursuing, and Matteo is wrestling with his isolation, both within the force and within his life. Thus we are presented with the struggle between a fixed set of beliefs and the teeming external chaos that constantly contradicts it, perhaps making us more tolerant of those who challenge how we feel.
The film is not without its flaws: one character makes an ideological about-face that's a little hard to believe, and any politics left of soft liberalism get the bum's rush. But in its fervent belief in the value of human interaction despite the pain involved, The Best of Youth offers more joys and treasures than a big festering sore like Sin City. Yes, it's long, yes, it's in two parts and no, there isn't a single dull moment in its whole extended running time. See it twice. (Alliance Atlantis)