Like many movie buffs, I am part of various groups about cinema on Facebook. On hindsight, nearly every movie buff I know personally, I had first befriended on a platform over the internet. I have been introduced to filmmakers and films that I would have never heard of, if not for these vibrant forums on social media. Best of Youth has to be one of the most beautiful films recommended to me by such acquaintances.
Around six months back, I added as a friend one of the members of such a Facebook group and we got chatting about our tastes in films. That friend said that it is one of his rituals to recommend an Italian film called Best of Youth, whenever he first meets a fellow cinephile. He also mentioned that it is a 6 hour film, not that well known, but an experience I would not regret. Now, I hadn’t even heard about the film before and given the backlog of films any average movie buff has, giving 6 hours to only one film feels like a difficult task. But a few days back, I finally got around to watching Best of Youth. And boy! What a deeply moving experience it was!
Best of Youth, very ambitiously, follows the journey of two brothers– Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni) – right from their youth in 1960s till 2000. The brothers are never short of love for each other. Both have contrasting personalities and both choose a diverse path to pursue. Matteo, the older brother, is a literature graduate and Nicola is studying to become a doctor. One day they plan to go on a trip all the way up North to the ‘end of the world’. Matteo has found work in a mental institution and discreetly brings along a beautiful girl named Giorgia – a troubled patient from the mental institution – to the trip, with the intention of getting her away from the ruthless means of the institution. But Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) is found out by the police, and that incident leaves a deep scar in the minds of both the brothers and changes their lives. The lives of Matteo and Carlo keep intersecting as the film traces landmark events in the modern history of Italy like the devastating flood in Florence and the vigilante group Red Brigade’s impact on Italian politics.
I won’t say any further about the plot as the beauty of the film lies in predicting which way the life of the two brothers and their family will take. The other main characters in the film are the brothers’ parents, their older sister Giovanna, their kid sister Francesca, their friend Carlo and the women the brothers fall in love with – Guilia (Sonia Bergamasco) and Mirella (Maya Sansa).
The great Roger Ebert said that no good film is too long and there cannot be a better example of it than Best of Youth. It is so engrossing a film that it doesn’t make you consciously aware of the time passing by, as you get lost in the world of the Caratis. Though the film focuses more on Matteo and Carlo, the screenplay by Sandro Petragia and Stefano Rulli gives all the main characters introduced enough space and opportunity to make an impact. Believe me, there is not a dull moment in its entire 6 hour duration and not a single character you would not root for! There is a particular tenderness to the way characters fall in love in the film and you can’t help wishing well for them.
The Carati family also are an antithesis to the most popular Italian family in cinema – the Corleones. Italy doesn’t seem too different a country from ours and so don’t the Caratis with whom most middle class Indian families might identify. There is a particular scene in the beginning of the epic saga, when a professor who is mighty impressed by Nicola’s academic progress suggests him to leave Italy at once if he has any ambition. He says, “Italy is a beautiful country. But it is a place to die, run by dinosaurs.” The professor further goes on to explain that he stays back in Italy as he himself is one of the dinosaurs. I am sure that youth of India in the 1960s and even now have received such advice from their seniors. Best of Youth keeps resonating with us at many levels like this.
The film lingers in your thoughts long after you have seen the film and you do realise that certain coincidences in the plot are a little too cute, but you don’t really mind them while watching the film and that is the strength of the direction of Marco Tullio Giordana. He is generous towards his characters and also his audience. The long duration of the film makes us stay with the characters longer and as a result makes us care more about them. It helps the film unravel like a novel and lay bare all its complexity and nuances. Despite the deep subtexts and gray shades, Giordana always keeps his film accessible and his characters likeable. He doesn’t take sides and is always sympathetic of them. Despite post-war Italy coming across as a country troubled with political turmoil, there is a sense of optimism in Best of Youth that is charming. The intention of the film like its characters seems to spread hope and that is why watching the film is such a heartfelt experience.
The camerawork in this made for television film complements the film with its framing and slow, fluid camera movements. There is also a particularly melodious background score that keeps playing at certain moments throughout the film that reminds you of Morricone at his best. The performances and the casting are just about perfect across the board, and I couldn’t make myself choose one over the other.
The Italian film is divided into two halves of 3 hours each and you can very well watch it on separate days, like I had planned to. But the film had drawn me so deep into its world that I ended up watching both parts in the same stretch with a short break in between. The second part was even more rewarding.
Best of Youth is a cathartic experience that makes you feel like you are more enriched as an individual after seeing the film. It has to be one of my most cherished movie watching experiences. I am going to visit the film again soon as I am sure it will just get better on repeat viewings. It took me a few days to gather my thoughts about the film, but right after it got over I realised why my friend took it upon himself to recommend this film so highly. It is that kind of a film that anybody would ridicule you to recommend when you mention that it is 6 hours long, but then that same person would call you back to thank you for recommending the film as soon as he finishes with it.
Trust me, sharing the joys and sorrows of Mattei and Nicola and other members of the Carati family would be one of the most rewarding 6 hours of your life.