Testimony to the transforming power of art
"There is, nevertheless, a certain respect and a general duty of humanity that ties us, not only to beasts that have life and sense, but even to trees and plants." Montaigne
Rarely does a new film find a place on a longstanding short list of best ever. The Italian import Best of Youth recently entered my all time best ten, a singular honor considering I had to sit still for six hours of viewing, and I rarely sit still anytime, even if my name is DeSando and it's a family saga.
Director Francis Ford Coppola created a movie empire with his Godfather series and ended up with what some consider the best American movie ever made. It is unforgettable for its emphasis on family values mafia style and its stunning photography. The Best of Youth is decidedly not mafia related; rather it is a romantic and historical rendering of Italy from the 1960's as seen through the lives of the Carati family and their friends and lovers. The two brothers, Nicola and Matteo, represent the Janus-like conflict of liberal and conservative in the volatile last half-century of Italian social and cultural change.
This is humanistic history at its best as director Marco Tullio Giordana takes us through the sexy seventies, a devastating Florence flood, the emergence of Red Brigades, assassinations and business downturns including the Fiat layoffs. Despite deaths, suicide, and disappointment, the last line of the film, spoken in the new century, repeats the sentiment of the youthful days in the last century that everything is truly beautiful. How can you miss that theme when the cinematography emphasizes the antique charm of Italy and the close up beauty of actors who look their parts, albeit rarely ugly? The film, often tightly framed, accentuates character over plot and a certain imprisonment in character and destiny. The choice of actors is nothing short of inspired.
The genius of Best of Youth is that like Italy itself, this family is a stew of ideologies that offers up dignity of the individual as the highest value and respect (remember The Godfather) for humanity the only arbiter of peace. This film stands with Brokeback Mountain and The New World as a testimony to the transforming power of art to make us look at ourselves as vulnerable and beautiful.