And to think, just a few weeks ago, I was going to construct this list without having seen Marco Tullio Giordana's exquisite The Best of Youth (#2). Just as so many of the films in my top fifteen, this title also played at the Toronto Film Festival (almost two years ago), but I skipped it. I figured - a six-hour-long film? With no intermission in the middle? Think of all the other films I would be able to fit in that generous time period! ...Well, my loss. Because I had to wait years before finally seeing this rare gem of a motion picture. I know some will express hesitation at the intimidating running time, but I promise you, once you are a couple of minutes into Act One, you will thank yourself for not balking at the challenge. Furthermore, it's an utterly accessible feature (that actually screened as a television mini-series originally in Italy) - easily followable, fast-moving and consistently enthralling. The focus here is on three generations of a middle-class Italian family, tracking their highs and lows through more than thirty years. But Giordana is not only interested in the story of this sprawling progeny, but also the formation of Italy as a nation.
For both the Carati family and the country of Italy, the film is about the construction of identity through life experiences. Giordana explores not only how grand-scale events such as the devastating Florence Flood of 1966 (which damaged many priceless artworks) or the revolutionary Red Brigade movement affect the Caratis, but also how Italy itself is affected by the small, intimate experiences of families such as the Caratis. What I am trying to argue - very inarticulately - is that both inform and shape one another, that you can read the Caratis as Italy and vice-versa. Perhaps this will clarify itself further for me on a second viewing, but I think Giordana does an excellent job of maintaining an interest in the national history overall while at the same time delivering the family drama. But even if you dislike that interpretation, the story of the two protagonist brothers - Nicola and Matteo - and the girl that forever changes their lives (Giorgia) is instantly gripping. I doubt any viewer will able to walk away from the film without having finished it; indeed, I had to delay watching Act Two by about two days, and in the interim, all I could think about was what would happen. This is a fantastic, gorgeous piece of cinema, one that nearly took the #1 spot on the list (consider the film that takes it and The Best of Youth as almost interchangeable in this regard). What moved me most by the end of it is that Giordana has brilliantly taken us full circle, from youth to maturity and back again, proving that he is a director who has a very thorough understanding of the bittersweet nature of life and family.