Though the prospect of six hours of heady period drama is unlikely to appeal to many, those who do invest their time and energy in Italian drama The Best Of Youth will be repaid tenfold. It's a vast, sweeping epic that thrillingly sets its characters' lives against a wider backdrop of profound political, historical, and cultural change. Similar in scale to the BBC's Our Friends In The North, this is a towering achievement that leaves you drained, moved, and overwhelmed.
First conceived as a TV mini-series, Marco Tullio Giordana's two-part film received a theatrical release in Italy where it became a huge box office success. It's possible this was due in part to an inspired marketing drive that gave punters who saw the first half discounted tickets for the second. But it's also true that this emotive piece speaks directly to the hopes, fears, and ambitions of a generation who grew up during one of the most turbulent periods in recent Italian history.
Beginning in 1966, the film revolves around two Roman brothers - Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni) - who embark on diametrically opposed paths. Nicola becomes a psychiatrist and political activist whose marriage to firebrand Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco) ends when she becomes a Red Brigade terrorist. The more volatile Matteo, however, joins the army, before eventually becoming a policeman.
At various points in the narrative, their lives collide with Giordana's other protagonists: Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca), a mentally disturbed young girl who suffers at the hands of Italy's dilapidated health system; Mirella (Maya Sansa), a feisty Sicilian librarian; and Carlo (Fabrizio Gifuni), a banker whose high-profile job lands him on Giulia's hit-list. These and many others populate a rich and multi-layered story that spans four decades and takes some dramatic twists en route to a redemptive, emotional climax.
"UNDENIABLE ECHOES OF THE GODFATHER"
Though compromised at times by budgetary restraints, lifeless photography, and some dodgy ageing makeup, this is a film with room to develop themes and characters over time, as well as the confidence to digress, explore, and embellish where necessary. And while the Caratis are very different from the Corleones, there are undeniable echoes of The Godfather in the movie's perceptive analysis of a nation's conscience through the experiences of one extended family.
Take a cushion, sit back, and savour what will undoubtedly come to be recognised as a cinematic landmark.
In Italian with English subtitles.