THE BEST OF YOUTH: FILM REVIEW
Junior year of high school, I had an incredible physics teacher who indulged our class as equally in his love for physics as his other interests, which included cycling, films, tennis, and virtually anything related to Spain, where he was from. He’s partially responsible for the false belief that adults have everything figured out, because he seemed to know a Wikipedia page worth of information about anything. One day after class, my friends and I were engaged in a conversation with him about films, because I said I rarely ever cry during movies. He took out a post-it note and wrote, The Best of Youth. “If you don’t cry during this movie, you’re probably dead inside.” We took the post-it note, and over winter break, my friends and I committed a full day and only one bathroom break to watching this Italian film, which has a running time of almost 7 hours.
The Best of Youth is both similar and unlike any other piece of work I’ve ever seen. It’s family-oriented storyline reminded me of The Godfather series, while its runtime reminded me of one of my favorite books, A Little Life. The Best of Youth follows two tightly-knit brothers, Nicola (Alessio Boni) and Matteo (Luigi Lo Cascio), and those who weave in and out of their life between the years 1966 and 2000. Much like The Godfather, it is a familial, generational story. Much like A Little Life, the film’s long length attempts to mimic the span of 37 years, completely sucking the audience into the worlds of two individuals. The film’s approach of taking a magnifying glass on the lives of two brothers highlights the fact that every person on our planet, which has a population of roughly 7.5 billion people, embodies a world as intricate as the stories told in both A Little Life and The Best of Youth.
The film opens with Nicola working as a doctor and Matteo as a “logotherapist,” whose job is to take mental hospital patients on walks. During one of these walks, he meets a beautiful woman named Giorgia, who Matteo spontaneously sneaks out of the hospital. Over the next few years, Matteo and Nicola go their own ways and from time to time, reconvene as brothers do. In this time, Matteo falls in love with a musician named Giulia, who he hears playing piano on the street. During the course of Nicola and Matteo’s lifetimes, their paths are continuously intertwined and crossed with those of Giorgia and Giulia, sometimes unexpectedly. These moments emphasize the impact that one person can have on changing the course of one’s life, even if it’s only for a short while.
The film, set in Italy, is also deeply political, as both Nicola and Matteo have different attachments to the State. Nicola takes an intellectual, free-spirited route, while Matteo eventually joins the police, in hopes of righting the country’s wrongs. The film ages with its main protagonists, as we observe the waxing and waning of Nicola and Matteo’s evolving spirits and beliefs, as political turmoil becomes reality, and each must make decisions beyond the bubble they once had. In this evolution, there are inevitably hints of nostalgia and longing for a time where choices had little consequences and ignorance could be bliss.
Marco Tullio Giordana’s vision for The Best of Youth is incredibly admirable, as he constructs a world from nothing, acting as a fortune teller of the past and the future. He is able to take on a retrospective point of view of Nicola and Matteo’s lives, setting up plot lines that seem insignificant in the moment, but are revealed later down the line to have impacted an infinite number of plot strings along the way. After watching The Best of Youth, even seven hours seems too short to encapsulate the highs and lows of a lifetime, not to mention all the mediocrities in between.
The Best of Youth will always remind me of the friends I watched it with and the physics teacher who recommended it to us. The slice of Nicola and Matteo’s lives that this film crafts will forever be entangled with a slice of my own life and the perspective in which I viewed The Best of Youth for the first time. Although no tears were shed on my end (a bit concerning), the film left me longing to remain in its fictional world, which I remember like it was my own memory.