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July 7, 2005

The Best of Youth, 2003

best_youth.gifAfter having missed the first hour of The Best of Youth when it screened at the 2003 New York Film Festival, I had constructed a mental scenario of what happened in that first hour that would have reconciled the way the film eventually unfolded. I had thought that Giorgia, the institutionalized young woman, was Nicola and Matteo's childhood friend (and perhaps Matteo's unrequited first love), the wedge between the brothers created when they became romantic rivals for her affection. I had also thought that this rivalry had somehow led to Giorgia's nervous breakdown and institutionalization, Matteo's enlistment in the military (in a defiant gesture to avoid following his heart again despite demonstrating a seeming penchant for academia in his youth), and catalyzed Nicola's decision to become a psychiatrist (after some transcontinental soul searching "at the end of the world"). As it turns out, none of these imagined scenarios actually happened in the film, and in real life, the course of human existence is never neatly predefined or reducible to that one transformative puzzle piece that reconciles everything. The implicit encapsulation of that underlying truism in such an epic and unhurried film as The Best of Youth is inevitably what makes the film so perceptive and satisfying. Eschewing the overt politicization and sensational cataclysm that could easily pervade any film that chronicles contemporary world history (particularly in the 1970s), the repercussions of history, nevertheless, remain palpable but indirect in the film (the Arno flooding of Florence, May 68-inspired student protests and worker strikes, Red Brigade terrorism, Fiat factory closures, mafia executions, Sistine Chapel restoration), and what remains is a more personal and insightful document of a middle-class family's assimilative quotidian through malleable history. In this regard, the film is closer in spirit to Hou Hsiao Hsien's A City of Sadness in the peripherality of the characters with respect to the national and cultural trauma of their environment. However, while Hou's film reflects the repercussions of an irreparable national struggle, filmmaker Marco Tullio Giordana's vision is one of acceptance, resilience, and the innate imperative to carry on with this process - the ritual - of living. For Giordana, the testament of human history is not told through the annals of revolutionary social struggle, but in the lifelines of average, unremarkable hands and faces made intimately familiar - and all the more indelibly beautiful - by time and briefly intersecting destinies.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 07, 2005 | | Filed under 2005


Now, I know this received an American theatrical release so I'm hoping it arrives on region 1 DVD before too long.

Also, I notice you have Robin Campillo's They Came Back on your releases page. I'm a big fan of the two films Campillo wrote with director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out)--good films about the business/working world are so rare (outside of Olmi!). But I was a bit disappointed with They Came Back. It had a dynamite beginning and premise and then sorta fizzled out in the second half like a wet firecracker. Have you seen it?

Posted by: girish on Jul 07, 2005 7:44 PM | Permalink

Well thanks for tempering my anticipation! ;) I skipped New Directors/New Films this year where they had the screening of They Came Back in favor of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema earlier that month (I only make a NY trip about once a month). I just received the DVD earlier this week so I was going to watch it this weekend. I agree with you about the Cantet films though, and I'm curious to see how this effort turned out.

Best of Youth doesn't have any earth shattering high and low points, which is what I like so much about it. Sometimes, it's too easy to make people victims of history, and if there's one thing that this films shows, it's that history doesn't really interrupt this process of life - the film starts somewhere in the family's lives and ends somewhere else in their lives. It's continuous, even eternal in a way.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 07, 2005 8:17 PM | Permalink

Hey, I'm sorry, I had *no* idea you had just gotten the DVD or I would have kept my big trap shut!

Posted by: girish on Jul 08, 2005 7:10 AM | Permalink

Great review as usual acquarello! I have yet to see City of Sadness, sadly.
Thanks for giving more exposure to this truly remarkable film deserving much love.

Coincidentally, today I've watched Stefano Rulli's (co-screenwriter of The Best of Youth, and Keys of the House) last documentary selected in Venice: Un silenzio Particulare.
Revealing the indirect inspiration for the character of Giorgia in the person of his own son, Matteo, who has the same symptomes of mutism and deepest isolation. This is a beautiful diary of a father desperately searching for a sign of communication.

Posted by: Harry Tuttle on Jul 09, 2005 12:16 AM | Permalink

Ah, thanks for the insight on Un Silencio particulare, I didn't realize that her character was based on real-life. The naming of the emotionally "closed" brother as Matteo also brings up an interesting parallel between him and Giorgia in the sense that on the surface, they're almost analogues of each other in their difficulty of expression. Granted, there is a different degree of emotional impenetrability between the two characters, but there's also an interesting statement there about social class in that one is summarily whisked away into an asylum as a matter of convenience, while the other, at least early on, is nurtured by family and thrives academically (there's that scene with the priest remembering Giorgia's confirmation that indicates her mental sharpness, much like Matteo's).

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 09, 2005 8:47 AM | Permalink

Stefano Rulli was in attendance and said he shared the creation of Giorgia with his co-screenwriter Sandro Petraglia. So it wasn't entirely his. What came directly from his son was the same eyes, always looking away, and the way Giorgia understands the photographer who took a portrait of Matteo was in love of him.
You're right about the strange parallel between the emotional shuttering of both Giorgia and Matteo.

I also caught Giordana's latest : Once you're born you can no longer hide, which was as disappointing as the Cannes critiques promised, unfortunately. Too preachy and melodramatized. A good mainstream film for the wide audience anyway I guess.

Posted by: Harry Tuttle on Jul 12, 2005 9:01 AM | Permalink

That's too bad about the new Giordana film, maybe the shorter duration was a detriment. :)

I'm curious to hear about the Giordana's connection with Pier Paolo Pasolini. The title Best of Youth was taken from a Pasolini screenplay and he had earlier made a film called Who Killed Pasolini?. I wonder if he was his mentor.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 12, 2005 12:58 PM | Permalink

How funny, I just stumbled across They Came Back myself last week but I've only watched the first 20 minutes or so before I was interrupted; I'm looking forward to finishing it. Its French title, Les Revenants, reminds me of Rivette's fervent insistence that Emmanuelle BĂ©art isn't a ghost in The Story of Marie and Julien, but a "revenant."

The Best of Youth is an extremely accomplished melodrama, but while I can't say that I would have wanted "overt politicization," I do think its lack of historical commentary is a bit undernourished. Maybe I would have preferred the film if it had only been a family drama and not so often flirted with political events for "color"? (Not that it won't likely appear in my year's top ten.) Maybe if so much commentary hadn't described the film as being about "Italian history," I would've been more prepared for it.

Posted by: Doug on Jul 17, 2005 2:28 PM | Permalink

That's true about revenant, subtle nuance, but more accurate characterization.

Interestingly enough, Best of Youth was shown in the same festival as Marco Bellocchio's very political Good Morning Night (also with Maya Sansa), so I actually found the two approaches to the same timeframe very complementary to each other. If I had seen two political films within the same general timeframe, I don't know that I would have taken as much from either.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 17, 2005 5:10 PM | Permalink

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