The Best of Youth (2003)
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Cast: Luigi Lo Cascia, Alessio Boni
Runtime: 363 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
In Short: Stunning and riveting; one of the best films ever made
The Best of Youth, a six-hour Italian epic directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, is one of the greatest films ever made. Of this, I have absolutely no doubt. I have seen it twice in its entirety, and just the other few nights when I gave it my second watch, I immediately fell in love with it in ways I couldn’t describe. It’s just brilliant, fantastic, engaging and stunning. There has never been a film quite like it. There have been comparisons between its story and characters with The Godfather, but that comparison seems unfair; this is a better film than The Godfather.
The Best of Youth follows the lives of Nicola and Matteo Carati, two brothers who live in Italy. The film chronicles much of their lives, from 1963 to 2003. We see them first as young men, full of brightness but with conflicting emotions. As the film begins, the two are freeing Giorgia, a seriously disturbed young woman, from an asylum where she has been mistreated. Together, they journey to return her home but their journey ends quicker than expected. This is only the first hour of this mammoth six-hour epic, but like all the hours, it is incredibly beautiful, wonderfully told and delightful to watch. This is one of the few films where I daren’t turn it off, because something is always happening and the plot is always moving forward. Most people, when they think of a six-hour film, think of a movie with a plot that drags slowly, but The Best of Youth is the complete opposite: the plot is always moving toward an unforeseeable end, with constant twists and turns, many of which will shock you.
When confronting the film’s length, I quote Roger Ebert, whose brilliant review inspired me to see the film: “No good movie is too long, just as no bad movie is short enough.” Ebert is bang on the money, he has it exactly right. This is a film that I didn’t want to end, and after a while, its length didn’t matter to me. I had two nights to watch it, and if I’d had the energy, I’d happily have watched it all in one go. It is just so amazingly watchable. The director Giordana knew he was making a six-hour film, and that he would have to keep his audience interested, and believe me, he does just that. There is not a wasted second in this film. Giordana’s camera never lingers for an extraneous amount of time, and our eyes never wander from the screen because developments in the story are constantly happening. That’s not to say the film is difficult to follow, because it isn’t. The many plot twists and developments make it more interesting, and are never confusing.
In my opinion, this is a perfect film. There is nothing about it I dislike. Though there are dozens of main characters, I never lost interest in any of them, and identified with most of them. I found myself laughing, tearing up, and sometimes just sitting there staring at the screen with a stone-face, riveted by it and not daring to be distracted. There are hundreds of beautiful moments within this movie’s 363 minutes: one that particularly haunts me is the image of the brothers’ mother, Adriana, who learns some tragic news, and while leaving an apartment, goes absolutely hysterical with grief. This scene is a meltdown that is unexpected and pitch-perfect; it is not overacted and feels completely real, one of the saddest moments of the film. Another beautiful scene is the one in which Nicola hears a woman playing a piano in a town square, while everyone else is having lunch. He is struck by her beauty and the beauty of the music, and stands by her, listening and smiling, glancing at one another. This is only ninety minutes in, but in their glance we can see that over the coming hours, we will join them in the pain and the beauty of what is sure to be a long and complex relationship.
Ebert also said in his review of the film that most movies of average length are short stories, and The Best of Youth is the film equivalent of a novel. Another perfect statement. He’s right. The pleasure and excitement one gains from watching this film is equal to reading a good book and being engrossed in its story. How is it that we have no problem with reading books, which take up hours of our time, but when a movie is longer than two or three hours, we throw a hissy fit? I’ll never know. But this is six hours – six wonderful hours – that I will never forget, and that I am so very glad I took the time to engross myself in. The Best of Youth is one of cinema’s triumphs, up there with Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as one of the greatest films of the last ten years – in fact, I’d go as far as to say that The Best of Youth is the best film of the last ten years, by far. In times of pain, grief or despair, this is a film you can come to and just be absorbed by. Believe me, when the six hours are over, you’ll be wishing for six more.