The Best Of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana – 2003) A+

At 6-plus hours, this is not a movie I could watch in one sitting, but the long running time is barely enough to follow the lives of the Carati family starting from the late 60s up until the early years of the 21st century. The Carati’s are not the Soprano’s, they have nothing to do with organized crime and for all intents and purposes they are a normal middle-class Italian family. The film pays close attention to the two brothers in particular (Nicola and Matteo) who could not be more different.

The other characters seem to revolve around these two. Matteo is certainly the more interesting of the two, the somewhat black sheep of the family who is handsome, smart, well-liked, mom’s favorite but severely unhappy. Matteo is the heart of this film, he manages to capture our attention and makes us want to figure him out throughout. The same can be said about his family members, who include loving parents and two sisters in addition to Nicola. None of them could understand him either. When it comes to relationships, Matteo is also more comfortable in anonymity, he even gives a girl he meets a fake name! Why? I am not sure other than to say that he just cannot relate to people no matter how close he is to them. The simple joys of life (holidays, love, food, family,..) seem to be lost on him. There is certainly nothing in the way he is raised to suggest why Matteo acts like that. No abuse, no violence and no poverty. I guess it’s just the way he is.

Nicola, is the exact opposite, he is like the glue that holds the family together, he makes sure to do the ‘right thing’ all the time. Sometimes this can lead to less than favorable results. He certainly is a well rounded and wonderfully written character though and the type of friend anyone would love to have. Many characters come in and out of this tale, and almost all of them are real individuals and are played perfectly, especially the mother who is portrayed superbly by Adriana Asti. Her facial expressions alone are remarkable in detailing exactly how she is feeling.

The other major character here is Italy itself of course. The Carati family’s ups and downs are told on location in cities like Rome and Turin and span regions like Sicily and Tuscany. These locales can be a mesmerizing hillside vista or a bustling street in Turin. Italy’s history, of which I know next to nothing, comes into play as well. We see the political turmoils of the 60s and 70s and this hits at the heart of the Caratis in more than one way. We also see the aftermath of the Florence floods and the effects and responses to the Mafia wars in Sicily.

The direction is assured with shots that center on details and pays attention to everyday life.  We get to know this family and recognize their homes and the contents of their cupboards. When an apartment is closed down and it’s tenants move on, we feel like we lived there and remember that we saw this same bedroom years ago. This is a lovely and touching human story with characters that anyone can relate to and care for. I is simply a joy to watch and to live through. The opening and closing sequences are almost like bookends, a reminder of hope, happiness and that life goes on. In retrospect, maybe I will buy this and watch it in one sitting.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana – 2003) A+”

  1. I plugged this movie how many times on cooking threads devoted to regions that serve as locations and you JUST got around to seeing it???!!! It makes me happy even outside the kitchen to read of your enthusiasm–it reminds me of the summer I saw it and what an impact it had. Gripping.

    Your description of Matteo makes me think. One equally moved critic noted that two-part film originally ran on Italian television with televisions reappearing on screen in pivotal moments. I wonder if Matteo’s detachment is somewhat related to watching television and being a passive observer rather than someone who plunges into real life the way Nicola does. Life held at a distance just isn’t enough.

  2. Hello Pontormo!
    I first heard about this gem back in late 2005 or maybe 2006 from the NPR film critic who was raving about it. I also had it recommended from individuals like you. Unfortunately, it got on my ‘list’ then but I finally managed to get around to it. I am very, very glad I did. BTW, I’ve never seen ‘The Bicycle Thief’ nor ‘The Leopard’ either…two classics that I think you also plugged. They are on the list too…somewhere :-).

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