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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Superb 'The Best of Youth' rewards viewers' commitment

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

From left, Jasmine Trinca, Luigi Lo Cascio, and Alessio Boni in The Best of Youth. From left, Jasmine Trinca, Luigi Lo Cascio, and Alessio Boni in The Best of Youth.
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There's no easy way to say it.

So let's just be out with it:

The Best of Youth (Buena Vista, $29.99) - which you should grab immediately and clear your calendar to watch - is a six-hour masterpiece in Italian. Spanning almost 40 years of that country's history, it tells the story of two brothers and their families and how their lives weave in and out of the social and political upheaval, from the counterculture of the 1960s to 2003. But this isn't one of those films where characters are at Woodstock in the first hour and working on Wall Street in the next, or where people choose ideologies then become enemies.

We like our films about sweeping social changes to stand tall for the little guy and tear down politicians. This leads deeper, beyond the ways the political becomes the personal. Here, as in life, everything we do is political and everything we do affects everyone else. So it's not an epic about history, but the ordinary people who live through history.

It begins in 1966, with brothers Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni) studying for college exams. One helps their father carry a television, but the other is too busy. That pattern appears again and again. Matteo is the older handsome one who rejects people - even as, on a whim, he springs a disturbed young woman named Giogina (Jasmine Trinca) from a mental hospital. Nicola is the more conventional, cautious son, studying to be a doctor even as he feels the pull of the counterculture and social activism.

Their lives splinter and twine like DNA strands. They meet up during the flooding of Florence, where Nicola meets his wife. Matteo seals himself off: He becomes a soldier, then a police officer assigned to handle protesting students. There is the Mafia in Sicily, and World Cup soccer in the north. One brother marries a Red Brigade terrorist tasked with murdering a family friend. The other brother hunts Red Brigades. And never do you feel you have wandered into a melodrama firing off in a zillion directions. These are people caught in the confusion of their time. The film allows the room for lives, not just situations.

Never mind that The Best of Youth doesn't conform to how you imagine art films behave - gauzy and serious, plenty of languid gazing. And never mind that some pictures are two hours and play like six, and that some pictures (this one, for example) are six and play like two. No gymnastic combination of effusive movie-critic adjectives ("an evocative, passionate, beautifully enriching humanist meditation on time and memory," anyone?) will get many moviegoers around that pair of insurmountable details:

It's in Italian (with subtitles).

And it's six hours long, which means first you will have to decide whether you will see it, then call in sick to work to watch it.

Still, hear me out.

The Best of Youth was originally made for Italian television but if you've ever gorged on a DVD set of The Sopranos or Lost, a six-hour production will sound modest. Indeed, if The Best of Youth first aired on television in this country, it would have been treated as an event; in fact, decades ago, when moviegoing was our biggest distraction and the culture was more receptive to huge, important pictures you didn't watch so much as get lost in, it would have become iconic.

Hey, it's not even that long.

There's Ingmar Bergman's seven-hour Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) - at 16 hours, the longest movie to receive a general theatrical release in this country. And Miramax (the old Harvey Weinstein version) did make an honest attempt last summer at turning The Best of Youth into that kind of event. The picture opened in a few dozen cities, showing in two three-hour chunks (each requiring a separate admission ticket). It was a valiant, if doomed, idea.

The Best of Youth is better on video, spread across two discs in three-hour segments - or if you like, digested in two-hour blocks over three nights. My guess is a lot of you are thinking, "This guy has gotta be kidding," but later, if you actually watch it, you'll recommend it to friends, and be surprised you didn't wait three nights to see the entire shebang.

Like watching a DVD of a particularly absorbing TV series, or reading a good novel, there's something deeply internal about allowing your world to be consumed by other people's drama.

You stand at the end and see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. You are practically breathing at the pace of the characters.

Soap opera fans understand.

The Best of Youth was directed by Marco Tullio Giordano and it's so expansive and wise, like The Sopranos, we recognize how things left unsaid damage people years later. Chances are missed, and yet we live so long in the skins of these characters, we watch them evolve in ways no standard screenplay would have time to develop. The locations expand: Rome becomes Turin, which leads to Florence, then Tuscany, then a magical episode in Norway. Films this immense tend to be tragedies and The Best of Youth will make you weep, but more likely, you'll feel optimism.

Sentiment creeps in.

But how could it not?

It's life. It's earned it.

•

RUST NEVER SLEEPS: If it weren't for the genius that clout delivers, how would we ever get great fiascoes - great fiascoes in the movie world being, of course, often more entertaining than competent, careful pictures? In other words, if it weren't for David Lynch's success in the 1980s and his subsequent ascendancy to genius status, would anyone have ever had the truly horrible notion that he should be the one to direct an adaptation of the sci-fi classic Dune? A horrible idea - but intriguing. It still is.

Problem is, Dune: The Extended Edition (MCA, $27.99) is confirmation the idea was more intriguing than the follow-through. But Lynch being Lynch - a master of perversity - there always seemed to be more to the 1984 picture than Universal would allow into movie theaters.

Turns out, there was.

The nearly three-hour cut of Dune is generally more boring than the tedious two-hour, 15-minute original. There's a new (and redundant) narration and chatty scenes that seem to repeat other chatty scenes; it's like a Matrix sequel pared down to just the moments where everyone stands around and looks concerned. Both versions are included on the DVD, along with the usual features on costumes and art direction and special effects. But tellingly, no commentary from Lynch - some people know when to leave the party.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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