Matteo and Nicola Caratis (Alessio Boni and Luigi Lo Cascio) are brothers growing up in 1960s Italy. In the summer of ’66, that lesser known Bryan Adams song, Nicola becomes one step closer to becoming a doctor, so he and his older brother, who unbeknownst to Nicola has just walked out of his own exam, plan to go on a celebratory vacation to Norway with their two friends. However Matteo, who has been working as a carer looking after mentally disabled people, discovers his latest patient, Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) has been undergoing forced electroshock therapy, so he breaks her out of her institution with plans of returning her to her family whilst on the trip. What occurs on this holiday sets Matteo and Nicola on vastly different paths, which are subsequently documented over the next four decades, following not just the two brothers, but also their friends, sisters, parents, lovers and, eventually, children.
The Best of Youth was amongst the films on my Least Looking Forward To list that I’ve been working through this year. I’ve still got three to go after this one, as well as four from my Most Looking Forward to list, but at 400 minutes long, just shy of 7 hours, The Best of Youth was going to be the trickiest one to get through. However, I found myself with a free Sunday, so I knuckled down and got through it. As it turns out, whilst overall the film is good, it wasn’t just the length I had to worry about. Our two main characters – to begin with at least – are brothers Matteo and Nicola. Of the two, Nicola is the most believable and well rounded. He begins the film with an easy charm and likeability that makes him a hit with his friends and the ladies, whilst remaining engaging, intelligent and opinionated. These traits, and those shown by many other characters, evolve gradually and realistically as the film moves through the decades. Matteo, on the other hand, begins as the polar opposite of his younger brother when it comes to getting on with others – Matteo is far more reserved and often seems confused by social situations – and is very much against the system in terms of how Giorgia is being treated, seemingly breaking her out almost on an impulse, which makes his sudden transition into joining the army and becoming a police officer seem so out of character. I took it as a plot necessity to provide a greater contrast between the brothers, as Nicola’s path takes him down a more revolutionary angle. Later, Matteo develops an anger issue that also didn’t sit right, and in fact almost everything he did seemed to go against his character up to that point, in one instance turning into Francis “Psycho” from Stripes.However, Matteo’s plot strand paid off in terms of some interesting situations that became of it. At one point, after becoming assigned to a detective department, he is tasked with apprehending – and potentially killing – a figure from his brother’s past who is now working as a contract assassin (I think, some of the details got a little sketchy, with my attention span not being capable of holding on for this length of time), and whose next target is also someone close to Matteo and Nicola’s family. Elsewhere plot-wise sometimes circumstances were established and dealt with far more swiftly than I’d have expected in a film of this length. One relationship Nicola has sees him writing a letter to his brother stating that he and his partner haven’t made love in 6 months. The next scene shows his partner than making a move on him, and the pair engaging in sex. Problem established; problem solved. These kinds of instances could probably have been written out and saved a little time.All in all, whilst the film is well made, well acted and for the most part retained my attention, it just isn’t good enough to justify its length. It felt very similar to Heimat, a German mini-series that followed a small village in Germany over a similar span of time, beginning just after the First World War and encompassing the second, which despite being even longer was much better because the viewpoints and situations shown were ones I wasn’t overly familiar with, whereas for the most part The Best of Youth dealt with typical soap opera dramatics.
Choose Life 7/10