July 7, 2005
The Best of Youth, 2003
After 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.