Originally produced for (but never shown on) Italian television, director Marco Tullio Giordana's six hour miniseries has a cinematic sweep and scope that translates successfully as a theatrical release.

Split into three-hour halves, the first part opens in a sun-drenched Rome in 1966. Two brothers, Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni) have plans to take a post-graduation trip with friends up to Northern Europe before heading off to University in the fall. However, their attempt to help Giorgia (Jasmine Trinca) a young woman wrongfully placed in an asylum, go awry, and the brothers set off on wildly divergent paths. Both undergo radical transformations: Nicola becomes a psychiatrist and something of an activist, meeting his wife Giulia (Sonia Bergamasco) during the flooding of Florence and eventually settling in Turin. Meanwhile, an increasingly troubled, taciturn Matteo joins the army and later, the police.

As we move forward through the Turin student riots of 1974, Italy's economic recession in the 1980s, and into the past decade, connections between seemingly disparate characters and events become apparent. There are many tragedies: deaths, abandonment, assassinations, and for more than a few characters, emotional barriers erected by an inability to express one's self and comprehend life's changes. Yet, through all these tense moments, Giordana's film manages to project a warm, inviting glow. The early idealism suggested by the title gives way to a tender, yet unsentimental nostalgia. The final half hour echoes moments from the film's first hour with resounding beauty.

Compared to similarly lengthy, ambitious projects like Belvaux's THE TRILOGY or even ANGELS IN AMERICA, THE BEST OF YOUTH is positively old-fashioned. There's little particularly innovative about the structure or presentation. Still, it's all executed magnificently, with a good cast (especially Lo Cascio and Bergamasco) and screenplay. This is a historical epic suffused with the intimacy of a family-centered drama like THE GODFATHER. Approach it like a great novel, one well worth your time and dedication.