19 March 2005 | noralee
Emotionally Gripping Mini-Series Of Italians Within Recent History
"Best of Youth (La Meglio gioventù)" proves that Italians have learned the art of the long-form television mini-series that the British have long mastered.
Covering a somewhat same period of the baby boom generation as "In A Land of Plenty," it has more of the generational feel of individuals caught up in history as we have usually seen in British mini-series about end-of-the-eras or World War I, such as "Brideshead Revisited" and "Jewel in the Crown." U.S. mini-series were more successful as sweeping historical epics, even when they were also family sagas like "Roots" and "Centennial;" when the networks tried to interpret more recent history, as in "The Sixties," the set characters sped through "Zelig" and "Forest Gump"-like in happening to be at the right place at the right time; perhaps the several seasons combined of the NBC series "American Dreams" could be considered comparable in showing how the times that are a-changing affect a family.
"Best of Youth" is being released in the U.S. in movie theaters, though I'm not sure even shown in two parts of three hours each how edited it is from the original format, as other grand European mini-series like "Berlin Alexanderplatz," "Das Boot" and "Fanny and Alexander" were originally only shown in the U.S. in truncated theatrical versions as even PBS seems averse to television with subtitles so we rarely get to see the best of world television. Comparison to the Italian film "The Leopard" is unfair as that was not created in the same format and covers a shorter period of historical time.
"Best of Youth" combines charismatic acting, leisurely directing amidst beautiful scenery in several parts of Italy with writing that takes the trajectories of complex yet consistent characters' lives believably and searingly affected by uniquely Italian experiences of the baby boomers' young adult years through middle age, without the American tendency to reject or regret youthful ambitions, through the lens of local natural disasters, violent political activities, judicial battles against the Cosa Nostra, European economic changes, with regional variations, that Americans rarely see in movies.
The focus is primarily on two brothers from the 1960's almost to the present, played by two actors who must be the equivalent of George Clooney and Richard Chamberlain in Italian television. Alessio Boni in particular as Matteo captures the screen with such tortured macho dynamism that it's no wonder he's gone on to play Heathcliff and Dracula in other mini-series. His Paul Newman-like startling blue eyes become a talking point of the series and a continuing visual leitmotif. Similarly, the physical differences between the two actors help to point up the different paths the brothers take through life, even as the casting of other family members to look like them is eerily effective.
The series is particularly good at capturing the camaraderie amongst old male friends over the years and the intimate interactions of members of a family, particularly with children, with a strong theme of the importance of both as an anchor.
Unlike in American TV where women are adjuncts as the girlfriend/wife/mother, the key women here are crucial fulcrums in the brothers' lives and have separate intellectual, psychological and emotional demands.
The emotions are important here -- grief is shown very movingly, with more pain and tears than American culture usually allows. In one extended scene, we see a grieving mother walk slowly up a long flight of stairs in numbed silence and gradually see her revive as she learns of surprise news about her son.
There are of course some coincidences of family members' and friends' paths crossing at key junctures, but the story overall grips us.
The pop music selections,American, European and Italian, are wonderfully evocative.