In the foothills of the Italian Alps, in a town in the Piedmont region known for its truffles and red wine is the center of the Slow Food Movement dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. It was founded in 1986 as a response to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's well-known Piazza di Spagna and has grown to 80,000 members around the globe. The family drama "The Best of Youth," Part 1 and Part 2, from Italian director Marco Tullo Giordana, is the cinematic equivalent of Slow Food. With a running time of almost six hours, divided into two parts, it's not a film for someone interested in immediate gratification. But the payoff is well worth the investment of the time and trouble it takes to get to the theater twice.
The family saga spans about forty years from 1966 to present in Italy with the focus on the family members and their relationships in the social and political context of the times. After about 2-1/2 hours of the film I still wasn't committed and could have walked away. But at the very end of the Part 1, I became hooked and stayed captivated until the end of Part 2. When "The Best of Youth" was over there was a warm afterglow for days. The characters are so alive that you feel like you just met new friends.
The cinematography captures sumptuous Italian interiors, Tuscan landscapes, rich colors and interesting light which invoke the sensuality unique to Italy. The characters interact authentically and the director avoids stereotypes. The pacing makes the story – which is not formulaic or predictable - unfurl like a novel.
Screenwriters Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli's wisdom about human behavior and relationships is evidenced in the script. The two main protagonists, brothers Matteo and Nicola are close, but at one point take different paths for adapting to life's challenges. Matteo (Alessio Boni) is passionate about ideas, books, and art, but the feelings stirred up in him are almost too much for him to handle. He has trouble with intimate relationships, perhaps because he is too sensitive to his feelings. He abandons his more creative endeavors and becomes a policeman, a job that requires conforming - taking orders and dressing in uniform. The highly structured occupation enables him to suppress his feelings, even if it's at the cost of his creativity and relationships. Matteo's brother Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) is also emotional and passionate, but is able to adapt life's blows and go forward without destroying his relationships or himself. The connection between Nicola and his daughter Sara is sweet and endearing.
Committing six hours to watching a movie is no small undertaking. But just think of it as a feast with a plethora of colors and flavors made with traditional local and sustainably grown ingredients that creates a memory which might last forever. In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 3/3-/05
Best of Youth Part I & Part II
400 Minutes; Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana; Italy; Italian with English subtitles