Novecento (1900, Bernardo Bertolucci, 1977)
La Meglio Gioventú (The Best Of Youth, Marco Tulio Giordana, 2003)
I always loved Italian cinema, and specially long italian movies where you get used to the characters and, in a way, end up making "new" friends that will be with you in a strange way. Good Italian films bring the best and the worst of us as contradictory human beings. No wonder we find them fascinating and hard to watch (for some people, at least).
If you have never seen an Italian movie, the idea of 11 hours of power movie watching with subtitles all over might sound crazy, but “crazy” is to not to have seen a masterpiece like Novecento; A politics-fueled drama that tries to explain, in a biased way, why Italy became so messed up during the first part of the 20th Century. By entering the lives of two friends, one rich and the other poor, we see how Italy’s farmers develop socialism and the land owners create fascism to counter-attack them and protect their interests at any costs.
But the tale is told in a five-hour flashback where both friends take different paths of life and meet every once in a while, like for instance having sex with an epileptic prostitute. Both of them will fall in love with the women both deserve, of course. Olmo will marry a union leader named Anita (Stefania Sandrelli) and Afredo will hitch Ada, the ultimate early 20th century drama queen and female wreck (played by the gorgeous Dominique Sanda, naked and banged by DeNiro’s ass, no less).
The movie features a great, superb villian named Atilla (Donald Sutherland) who would be the equivalent to Darth Vader if this movie was Star Wars. But Darth Vader was a black Teletubbie compared to the monstrous character brought by Sutherland: a guard dog protecting the landowners' interests at all costs, burning elder people's homes with them inside, smashing cats, raping and murdering children and gathering a crowd of mean, union-worker bashers; ultimately contributing to consolidate the Italian Fascist party. Bertolucci, when he was shooting the movie, was a member of the communist party, and shows us how evil a society could be living under the iron fist of right-wing politics.
Bertolucci looked at his own political upbringing and realized during the making of this epic that communism was, maybe, as bad as fascism; therefore making the movie criticized by both sides of the political spectrum. Both in the U.S.S.R. and in the U.S. it was seen as red-flagged propaganda; however, the socialist governments also noticed the film had a sour view to their freedom's repression. Too much politics and confusion made Novecento a brilliant flop.
La Meglio Gioventú covers the second half of the 20th century in a more fresh and maybe naïve way. This time there won’t be social struggles between the main characters, brothers Nicola and Mateo, but they will see the dramatic changes right in front of their eyes. After failing miserably at taking a mentally retarded girl (most beautiful Italian donna ever Jasmine Trinca) back to her father’s home in the Heart of the Country, Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alesso Boni) split and travel on different paths of the same National history. Matteo will get the worst: after being deceived by the society -not his friends-, he becomes alienated and depressed and joins the army, and afterwards the police, and goes chasing down the mafiosos of Sicilia. Love is around the corner but he seems not to notice it, as he goes out with a cute librarian (Maya Sansa) who will only confirm that Matteo's destiny might be doomed. Matteo is a tortured soul carrying the guilt and sins of the entire country. He doesn't know how to deal with it.
Nicola is the romantic and lucky one, extremely good-hearted and positive. We expect him to have a cool, relaxed life after he travels to Norway, hangs out with some hippies and nails a Norwegian lumberjack's daughter. After the tragic Firenze floods, he returns to help rescue what's left of the Italian culture -or what's left of him- and in that "down" moment he gets involved in a painful love affair with a mean woman named Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco). Of course at the beginning she's not mean: she's haunting, she's cool, she's blonde, and she plays piano so good she should be recording for Naxos. They will have a child together and live through the years of violence and despair Italy had afterwards. The hatred will reach Julia instead of good ol' Nicola and their daughter, and Julia becomes one of the greatest mean and troubled women I've ever seen in a movie. Not only a bitch on her own right but also a plain and simple criminal, following wrong ideals. Giulia and Nicola's daughter will, in a way, fix things eventually between them but there won't be anything to do for them as a couple when Nicola finds unexpected love towards the end of the movie in one of the most beautiful romantic scenes ever put on film. I'm serious.
There couldn't be two more different directors than Bertolucci and Giordana, but they are telling the same story of coming out of age, event tho from different points of view: one is the the finger-pointing, the socialist, where emotions are just consequences of the politics applied through a big picture. The other is a more personal and melancholic one, where emotions are just that. In Best Of Youth the history of Italy is just a background, not the forefront that Bertolucci tries to shove us, in an intellectual way. Giordana and Bertolucci might be long lost brothers of the same heartland.