Summer 1966 and two Italian brothers are about to go their separate ways. Nicola abandons political radicalism for psychiatry, while Matteo serves in the army and the police - yet each continues to share a common goal of changing a corrupt and indolent society.
While it may not be as long or quite in the same class as Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz or Edgar Reitz's Heimat trilogy, this sprawling two-part family drama - that spans some 40 years of combustible Italian history - is still a monumental, moving achievement.
Director Marco Tullio Giordana paces proceedings impeccably, so that we not only get to know the sizeable cast of characters, but also come to understand both the factual and fictional events that shape the lives of Luigi Lo Cascio's impassioned shrink and Alessio Boni's melancholic cop. But what's particularly impressive is that the screenplay neither forces its socio-political points nor melodramatises the various family feuds, romantic disappointments and personal epiphanies.
Indeed, the action has the unhurried scope of a novel and will engross those tired of the breakneck pyrotechnics of so much commercial cinema. The performances also have an unfussy authenticity, as so many principals studied together at Rome's National Drama Academy. The running time and the specificity of the setting may dissuade some, but the themes and personality traits are pretty much universal and those who last the six-hour distance will never forget it.
Extraordinarily ambitious and effacingly accomplished, this is both an affecting domestic drama and a provocative political epic that is never anything less than intimate, intelligent and involving.