The official title in English is “The Best Years”. The opening film of the Italian Film Festival, which begins this Thursday, February 25, spans 40 years in the lives of four people. It’s been so long, and so much is happening, that the film could have been a mini-series, an Italian “Dance to the Music of Time”. But it lasts a little over two hours. Don’t blink or you’ll miss something.
Written and directed by Gabriele Muccino, “The Best Years” follows four friends in Rome through four decades of their lives, their loves, their marriages, their careers, their hopes and disappointments, their successes and failures. It starts in 1980, when they’re all in the blossoming and hungry teenage years, and ends today, when they’re older and wiser, with their own teenagers.
As “The Best Years” speeds along, it pauses briefly to greet important events: a riot during the “Years of Lead” when one of them, Riccardo, is shot dead; the fall of the Berlin Wall ; the political fall of Silvio Berlusconi; the terrorist attacks of September 11 against the Twin Towers. The story is a pale backdrop to the film’s true message: the paramount importance of friendship.
“The Best Years” is a boyfriends movie, except there are four buddies and one is a woman. Her first name is Gemma. We never learn his last name. She is more stereotypical, more troubled and less nuanced than the three male characters. It’s surprising when you give it what is arguably the most beautiful scene in the movie, the one that makes you catch your breath and wish there were more like it.
It is Muccino’s twelfth feature film. His films have won three Nastri d’Argento Awards, Oscars in Italy and several Donatello Awards, the national equivalent of the Golden Globes. His 2001 film “L’ultimo bacio” (The Last Kiss) is one of Italy’s biggest box office hits; 2002’s “Ricordati di me” (Remember Me, My Love) was an even bigger hit. In the United States, Muccino performed “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Seven Pounds”, with Will Smith.
The four main actors of “The Best Years” – Pierfrancesco Favino (Giulio), Micaela Ramazzotti (Gemma), Kim Rossi Stuart (Paolo) and Claudio Santamaria (Riccardo) – have long resumes and many films to their credit. (A source calls them “the best Italian actors around.”) Favino has appeared in the American films “A Night at the Museum”, “Angels & Demons” and “Rush”.
In “The Best Years”, Giulio, Paolo and Riccardo meet the night Riccardo is shot; he survives and they give him the nickname “Surv”. Paolo meets Gemma when he brings a pet bird to school to explain how birds fly. Therefore, they are all connected, despite different origins and beliefs. Giulio is poor, with a violent father; Paolo is an idealist with dreamy eyes; Riccardo’s parents are hippies; Gemma is an orphan. Sometimes, for various reasons, the four friends go their separate ways, but sooner or later they meet – on the streets of Rome, in a train station, in other random places – and reconnect. They are meant to be together.
It’s interesting to see a movie set in Rome that treats it like another city, a place where people live, instead of being one of the great tourist destinations in the world. We see occasional ruins as we pass, and there is a sweet scene at the Trevi Fountain. But no Colosseum, no Place Saint-Pierre. Just everyday places people go.
With a star director, a powerful ensemble cast, an ideal location, and a compelling yet crowded storyline, “The Best Years” is a great start to the 12th Minneapolis / St. Paul (IFF). It’s delightfully watchable and will leave you craving more Italian movies. A partnership between the Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis / St. Paul and MSP Film Society, hosted by artistic director Tommaso Cammarano, this year’s festival features 11 feature films over eight days. “The Best Years” is only available Thursday, February 25. IMF and banknotes.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
This is a tough call on which of the three author events – Club Book, the Minnesota Historical Society Press Book Launch, or Fireside Reading – to witness in real time. Fortunately, everything will be archived so you can stream them later on demand.
We’re used to having this option, like everything that goes everywhere ends up on a big DVR in the cloud. Will this continue into the next normal?
V Now until Sunday February 28: Nightly Met Opera Streams: Dmitri Hvorostovsky Week. The Russian baritone superstar died in 2017 at the age of 55. But he made it to the Twin Cities before that date, most recently giving a splendid recital for the Schubert Club International Artist Series in May 2014. Operas airing this week include performances from 1999 (Tchaikovsky’s “The Lady of pique ”) to 2015 (“ Il Trovatore ”by Verdi). Each will be available at 6.30 p.m. CST and will remain accessible for on-demand viewing until 5.30 p.m. the next day. IMF and links. To free. PS If you read this Tuesday morning or early Tuesday afternoon, you can also see his “Il Trovatore” 2011 and end your week.
V Wednesday February 24, 6:30 pm: Club Book, hosted by Scott County Library: Eduardo Porter: “American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise. Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States is losing ground on almost all social health indicators. In his latest book, a New York Times veteran argues that racism is largely to blame – and points the way to hope. Porter “goes to the root of racism … and brings it back to this day with unfailing honesty and facts” (NPR). IMF. On Facebook Live, no registration required. If you can’t, you can listen to the podcast later.
V Wednesday February 24, 7 pm: Minnesota Historical Society Press: Patrick Strait, Launch of the book “Funny Thing About Minnesota…”. The former City Pages and Growler comedy reporter shares an insider’s look at stand-up comedy in the Land of 10,000 Laughs. Spanning the late 1970s to early 2000s, from Mickey Finn at the Comedy Gallery at Acme, from Jeff Gerbino to Louie Anderson and Scott Hansen, from Susan Vass to Lizz Winstead and Colleen Kruse, it is, at our knowledge, the first history of stand-up in our just state. At the launch, Strait will host a live chat with special guests Anderson, Hansen, Gerbino, Winstead and Joel Madison. Expect lots of laughs. To free. Live on Facebook and Youtube, later available on both for streaming. Strait is also the founder of mncomedy.com.
V Wednesday February 24, 7 p.m .: Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library: Fireside Reading Series: Heid Erdrich, “Little Big Bully”. This will be the last event of the 27th Annual Fireside Series. Does that mean spring is on the way? Absoutely. Erdrich, an Ojibwa registered at Turtle Mountain, will read an excerpt from her seventh book of poetry. Free, on compulsory registration. Other plans? All Fireside 2021 events are available on this YouTube playlist.
L Thursday, February 25: Minnesota Museum of American Art: “Outdoor Experiences: Black Lives in Rural and Suburban Minnesota. “ While the doors of the M’s remain closed, its glass galleries on Robert and 4e rue in Saint-Paul are open to all who pass, and they take advantage of this with a series of exhibitions. Hosted by Jokeda “JoJo” Bell, Executive Director of the African American Interpretive Center of Minnesota (AAICM), this show explores the experience of being black outside the Twin Cities. Drawing inspiration from AAICM’s archives and oral history project, it features photographs by Chris McDuffie as well as excerpts from interviews with black people in Minnesota who have had formative experiences in rural or suburban areas of the country. State, living on the fringes of black and white society. Tune in for the exhibition kick off at 2 p.m. with Bell and special guest Nur-D on Zoom (registration required) or Facebook Live.