Magazine article The Christian Century

Choices of Youth

Magazine article The Christian Century

Choices of Youth

Article excerpt

THE EXTRAORDINARY six-hour Italian movie The Best of Youth is like a long novel. By the end you feel you know the characters the way you know your own family and circle of friends. The setting is the social and political turbulance of the years between 1966 and 2003. The writers, Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, and the director, Marco Tullio Giordana, approach public events with an intimate lens. Considering the length of the picture (generally shown in two three-hour screenings) and of the period it portrays, the film has a surprisingly compact cast of characters. Though the narrative sometimes leaps ahead several years and regularly stretches back and forth across the country--and occasionally steps outside it--the film brings to mind a story by Chekhov more than a novel by Tolstoy.

The protagonists are two Roman brothers, Matteo (Alessio Boni) and Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio), col lege-age sons of a successful merchant and an elementary-school teacher. They've promised themselves a trip abroad with friends as a prize for surviving their final exams. But at his oral exam in Italian literature, Matteo, restless and brooding and prone to unexplained outbursts of anger, senses condescension from his professor and stalks out of the room, throwing away his university career. He and Nicola split up, and their lives take dramatically different turns.

Nicola has an archetypal 1960s experience in Norway, where he falls in with some hippies and lives for a while with a Norwegian woman. Matteo joins the army, as if seeking some official outlet for his anger and also punishing himself by choosing a life unsuited to him in every way. The brothers' paths don't cross again until both wind up in Florence in the wake of a flood--Nicola as a volunteer in relief work and Matteo as part of his army unit. That's also where Nicola meets Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco), who enchants him by uncovering a piano, unloaded with other furniture in the crowded street, and playing Ravel. It's a magical, romantic, when-the-world-was-young moment.

Nicola follows her back to Turin and moves in with her. They live activist lives while he studies to become a psychiatrist, devoting himself to more open-ended--and open-hearted--ideas about how to heal the psychically sick. …

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