Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Best of Youth. (2003) Marco Tullio Giordana

Six Hours of Italian for A&F Nominations.

This is a sprawling, epic journey following the lives of four siblings in Italy over the span of something like forty years. One of my all-time favorite films, it's a story I wish I could live inside. It has brothers I wish I could call my own, and friends, who like in real life, I wish I could figure out.

The story pivots itself around two brothers from the Carati family, Nicola and Matteo, from the time of their early college years into their diverging adult lives. It shows how their paths are forever altered by one event they share early in the story, and how each of them manages to carve out a totally opposite path from the other -- social, political, and otherwise -- and yet they always stay somewhat connected, and neither one of them are wrong in their different directions.

One event from their youth has sent each in opposite directions, and yet we can understand why each has chosen the way he deals with it.*

When Matteo takes on a job at a mental institution in the mid-sixties, he is introduced to the character that changes them: Giorgia, a wreck of a patient, who barely speaks and refuses to let anyone touch her. Matteo begins taking her on walks as a part of his job, walks that sometimes don't turn out well due to Giorgia's belligerent nature. But when he researches into her past he discovers that she is recovering in a greater degree from her treatment rather than whatever originally ailed her. Giorgia has been given electro-shock treatment, an ineffective, incredibly damaging procedure where two electrodes are placed on the patient's temples for shocking the brain.

If you look very closely into Giorgia's eyes, you can see she might have at one time been a beautiful girl. Whatever hurt her before isn't as bad as the treatment that is hurting her now. Matteo instinctively sees this. On an impulse (the first of many for Matteo), he sneaks her out of the institution at night, and shows up with her when meeting Nicola. They were planning a vacation to Norway with some friends, but in an error of innocence, the naive young brothers decide it is time to take Giorgia back to her home to be with her parents.

Perhaps you remember some event from your life that changed you forever, or maybe it altered the course of your thinking. Perhaps you were raised to believe one thing, but experience taught you something else. In taking Giorgia back home, Nicola and Matteo are trying to do the right thing, but they will fail in doing so. And what happens on this trip will haunt them for many years to come, their psyches permanently altered.

Giorgia disappears from their lives, and there is nothing the boys can do. As we follow them over the decades, there are other characters who pop in and out of their lives, too. Quite a few times when someone disappears, the only thing left behind is heartache. Sometimes the heartache feels like it's just too much, and we get to see and understand how each of the family members deals with it. When those we love go MIA, it has deep ramifications on our other choices, too.

Plot lines weave in and out, different characters have different arcs. Time moves forward. Political movements have their moment in the sun. The Best of Youth becomes a tapestry of all the lives in and around the Carati family, what they face over the years with their spouses and their friends. Some go into the government. Some become fiercely anti-government. One, in particular, loses herself to a political uprising.

And then there is love, and destiny, and the idea that sometimes two can make it work even with the same ghost that follows them around.

The expressive nature of this Italian family makes it such an endearing work. This is a film in which Story (capital S) is front and center, and Characters (capital C) can be loved, whether in joy or misery, understanding or mystery. There is a pulse to this six hour film that makes it worth its longer length. It develops so deeply, these people become the kind of family you want in your heart.

Truly, this is an unforgettable and rewarding Story experience.

*Well, maybe. One can understand some of the choices Matteo has made, but one of the most mysterious parts about The Best of Youth is Matteo himself, and the final choice that he makes. This man is another one of the mysterious figures that drives at the heart of the story. We want to understand him. We are compelled, like his family, to somehow get to what  drives him, and yet we are left understanding many of his choices but never understanding his beautiful, emotional heart.

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