It seems rather strange that a film nearly six hours long could be this good. Yet, the story of Marco Giordana's ambitious La Meglio Gioventu a.k.a The Best of Youth (2003) is so rich it feels as if another six hours could have been easily added up. A project of paramount proportions La Meglio Gioventu follows two brothers, Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo Carati (Alessio Boni), through the turbulent history of Italy from the early 1960s all the way to 2000.
Formally divided into two parts La Meglio Gioventu touches upon a number of crucial for the history of Italy events: the disastrous flooding in Florence, the peak of the Red Brigades, the assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, the restructuring of the Italian automotive giant FIAT, and the student riots from the late 1970s. Indeed, this film has a very complicated structure which makes it almost impossible to describe in detail without disrupting the rhythm of what appears to be a classic Italian tale of love and friendship.
The foundation of La Meglio Gioventu is built around the struggle of the Carati brothers to find their way in life. Nicola, the more ambitious and dedicated one, becomes a doctor while undergoing a number of life-changing events leading him to an interesting relationship with a woman involved with the notorious Red Brigades. Matteo, a man with an uncanny passion for discipline, becomes a police officer only so he could discover that his heart is unable to tolerate the social ordinance of the Italian state.
Originally intended for Italian television La Meglio Gioventu offers much more than an engaging storytelling. It offers a look at the very core of the Italian society and a number of events that shaped its socio-political structure. Interestingly enough the film never really evolves into a boring collage of political affairs wrapped around with an overly-sentimental script. On the contrary, La Meglio Gioventu remains a profoundly intimate experience with an unusually rich storyline.
I see plenty of influences in Marco Giordana's film which lead back to some classic and some more recent Italian productions. The director's colorful camera work complimented by a truly timeless soundtrack implies familiarity with Bernardo Bertolucci's films about social unrest. Both Partner (1968) and his more recent The Dreamers (2003) are easily comparable to La Meglio Gioventu. I also detect in La Meglio Gioventu the suffocating sense of political paranoia which Marco Bellocchio was able to recreate beautifully in his films (the recent Buongiorno Notte (2003) about the kidnapping of Italian President Aldo Moro is a perfect example). Last but not least drawing parallels between Giuseppe Tornatore's elegant Cinema Paradiso (1989) and La Melgio Gioventu is almost inevitable; the two films most certainly offer the magic that classic pictures are made of.
It took some time for American distributors to acquire La Meglio Gioventu. In fact, in 2005 I nearly lost any hope that a local company will step up and distribute this film nationally. The delicate nature of La Meglio Gioventu, and precisely the fact that the film runs at almost 370 minutes, pretty much guaranteed the financially-dreadful stamp "art-house feature". Allow me to disagree with any such insulting evaluations: not only is La Meglio Gioventu one of the best family dramas you are likely to see it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful European films to be distributed in North America in a long, very long time.
La Meglio Gioventu is the winner of the Un Certain Regard Award (Marco Giordana) at the Cannes Film Festival (2003); winner of the David Di Donatello Awards for Best Director (Marco Giordana), Best Editing (Roberto Missiroli), Best Film, Best Producer (Angelo Barbagallo), Best Screenplay (Sandro Petraglia/ Stefano Rulli), Best Sound (Fulgenzio Ceccon); the Audience Award for Best Film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (2004); and the granted by the Seattle International Film Festival Golden Needle Award for Best Director (2004) among many others.
How Does the Film Look?
Spread over two discs, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and enhanced for widescreen TV's La Meglio Gioventu looks solid. Before I continue with the evaluation for this print allow me to address the few concerns regarding the aspect ratio of this film. As there have been some speculations that the film has been officially altered for theatrical release and the intended ratio is indeed 1.85:1 I would like to assure you that such claims are indeed only describable as speculations. Both the earlier released French and 3DVD Italian sets are indeed in the proper aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (as is the Dutch set). With other words neither the rumored 1.85:1 nor the "European" 1.66:1 ratios are correct. As screened during the Cannes Film Festival La Meglio Gioventu should be viewed in 1.78:1.
With this said the R1 release does appear to be in a near excellent condition. The master used for this release must have been in great condition as colors are bright and vivid, contrast appears to be very strong, and the actual print is virtually free of any external damage (dust/specs/actual print damage). The amount of film grain appears to be acceptable as well leaving very little for those with a more sensitive eye to be unhappy with. The few occasional soft spot areas mostly during indoor scenes are with the proper natural look therefore avoiding the overly compressed digital-look typical for some features that are shot specifically for TV. With other words despite of the fact that the film was shot for Italian TV, or shall I say was intended for Italian TV, the print herein provided has a very film-like feel. In addition, those speculating about the source of the print: I can assure you that Miramax have done an excellent job and this does not appear to be a PAL-NTSC port. Indeed, a deserving presentation.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original Italian 2.0 audio track and optional yellow (sadly, rather large) English and Spanish subtitles (as well as HOH) La Meglio Gioventu sounds perfect. Great clarity of sound, good separation of the two channels, and an impressive mixing quality are indeed the strong assets of this DVD. With this said, allow me one more time to address the concerns which some readers have expressed regarding the lack of a more elaborate DTS track (which appears as an option on the existing R3 HK disc). I have done some extensive research and to the best of my knowledge an Italian DTS track was never provided for any of the European producers to consider for their local releases (that includes Italian, French, Dutch, etc. releases). So I find it very unlikely that such DTS mix was provided exclusively for the R3 release. Therefore claiming that the R1 DVD was snubbed is somewhat an exaggeration in my opinion. If anything, R1 aficionados should be unhappy that Miramax did not include the Italian 5.1 track found on the Italian 3DVD set and of course the impressive amount of extras. With this said Miramax have also provided the official French track that was promoted for the Cannes premiere.
If we should speak about snubbing…this might very well be the place. A typical Miramax approach: nothing!
Lyrical, beautiful to watch, intelligent, without a doubt a film conveying the timeless allure of Italian cinema La Meglio Gioventu is not to be missed. Sadly I am forced to transform this review into quite possibly my most questionable DVD evaluation by NOT granting Marco Giordana's film the status it deserves: the DVDTALK Collector Series mark. The lack of extras is criminal!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!