Combustible Celluloid
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With: Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Adriana Asti, Sonia Bergamasco, Fabrizio Gifuni, Maya Sansa, Valentina Carnelutti, Jasmine Trinca, Andrea Tidona, Lidia Vitale, Camilla Filippi
Written by: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli
Directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nudity
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 366
Date: 05/19/2003

The Best of Youth (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Long and Winding Road

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Originally created as a TV miniseries, Marco Tullio Giordana's six-hour The Best of Youth received a sporadic but fairly successful theatrical release in the United States. It screened in two 3-hour chunks with separate admissions.

It depicts the story of an Italian family, tracking their successes and failures from 1963 through 2003. Part One journeys through to 1980, introducing us to liberal Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio) and his more conservative brother Matteo (Alessio Boni). While Nicola works for peace and human rights, Matteo joins the military and the police force, and both usually wind up in the middle of Italy's most important moments. It's a relatively simplistic way of looking at a period in history, and despite the obvious care that went into the filmmaking and the superior quality of the performances, it took me more than a week to muster up the energy to see Part Two.

Happily, Part Two is much better, much more emotionally involving, with one sequence that literally left my jaw hanging. With the characters firmly established, Giordana tugs at heartstrings without rushing, without overplaying his hand or overstaying his welcome.

Still, even with six hours of film to play with, Giordana takes lazy short cuts from time to time, perhaps wary of trying the audience's attention span. He throws in expository cheats and, given the choice, will move on before letting a scene linger for an extra moment. And the sheer number of haircuts, beards, and various forms of age makeup can make your head spin.

Besides the two brothers, we meet their mother, their sisters, a daughter, cousins, in-laws and various other characters, whom -- fortunately -- we are given time to recognize. Among the supporting players are three great women. Sonia Bergamasco co-stars as Giulia, who marries Nicola and becomes a spy. Jasmine Trinca plays Giorgia, a patient in a mental hospital who suffers electroshock therapy before Nicola helps reform the system and Maya Sansa plays Mirella, a gorgeous Sicilian woman who loves Matteo but can't get close to him.

As we know from years of Oscar broadcasts, long films often seem more important than short films, and reviewers will often reward themselves for such a long haul with a four-star review. The Best of Youth is no masterpiece, but it has enough truthful, moving moments to make it worthwhile.

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