Every so often a piece of art, be it a painting or a sculpture or a song, comes along that reminds you just how good art can be. Such is the case with Marco Tullio Giordana's masterpiece La Meglio gioventù, a six-hour film about the nature of love, loss, and living itself. Following Nicola Carati (Luigi Lo Cascio) and his brother Matteo (Alessio Boni) over the course of 40 years, Giordana explores their lives, their relationships, and the experiences that take them from starry-eyed optimists about to embark on an exploration of Europe to an adulthood unlike anything they could have ever imagined.
The plot is too big and varied to easily summarize here, not to mention that one of the film's joys is seeing the varied twists and turns it takes, so suffice it to say that it follows these two brothers as their lives take vastly different paths. Nicola falls in love, has a child, and becomes a psychiatrist, while Matteo seemingly out of nowhere joins the army and later becomes a cop, despite his disregard for rules and order.
From there, Giordana weaves a tapestry of family, friends, lovers, and Italy herself, creating a world so rich and fully-realized that the audience feels as if they are somehow part of it. Characters come and go and the dynamics of relationships change over time, and by the end of the film you're so invested in these characters and their lives, that you wish the film would go on forever. The film's six-hour running time, which seems daunting at the start, at the end doesn't feel nearly long enough. And in a world where 90-minute movies seem desperate for ways to fill the time, this is a truly amazing accomplishment.
So how is it that La Meglio gioventù achieves this herculean task? Partly by embracing the luxury that the runtime affords. Giordana spends the first hour or so establishing his two main characters and setting a pace and a style that slowly and quietly draws the audience in with the confidence that pays off exponentially in the film's second half.