Goodbye Youth (Addio Giovinezza!) is one of Italy’s most famous, beloved, and important operettas. It was so popular that Italian soldiers sang its songs in the trenches during the First World War. The Great War would also claim the life of one of its writers, Nino Oxilia, who died at the front during the battle of Monte Grappa at the age of 29. He had also been slated to direct the 1918 film version of Goodbye Youth. Production still went ahead in his honour Augusto Genina, one of the top directors of early Italian cinema, became the director. The film was considered lost for many years until a copy of it was found recently in Japan. This was screened during the 2017 edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato.
Actress Maria Jacobini, Oxilia’s real-life partner, accepted the part of Dorina, the young seamstress who falls in love with Mario (played by Arnold Kent, billed as Lino Manetti), who lives in her home in Turin while studying at university. Their blooming romance is disturbed when Elena (Helena Makowska), an older sophisticated lady, lures him away from her. The pivotal dilemma is a quite familiar one: while Dorina represents the simple joys of domesticity, Elena represents the temptation of life in the high society. Helena Makowska, in fact, plays her role as a temptress, silent-era style, dressed in lavish clothes.
As the title implies, Goodbye Youth represents the end of youth through a coming-of-age romantic melodrama. However, the nostalgic feel of Genina’s final work reveals the influence of the First World War on its production; an innocence that had been lost and a youth that had been ended, physically or otherwise, as a result of its abrupt brutality.
Narratively, the film walks around in circles. The overall mise-en-scéne lacks an ambition that is seen in other works by Genina, such as the silent Cyrano or Bergerac (1923) and the talkie Heaven Over Marshes (1949). The filmmaker would return to Goodbye Youth in 1927 with another silent adaptation, which was less rushed or disturbed by the lacks of film production during the Great War. Despite this, his 1918 film remains noteworthy. The dramatic power of the lingering close-ups shared by Kent and Jacobini is remarkable. While the melodrama is heavy-handed and slightly redundant, the lighter moments of Genina’s Goodbye Youth cannot be overlooked. In particular, scenes depicting young men’s chatter about women feel very funny and contemporary take on the absurdity of masculinity. – ★★★
ADDIO GIOVINEZZA! | 1918, Italy | Drama | Directed by – Augusto Genina / Written by – Augusto Genina (based on the play by Sandro Camasio and Nino Oxilia) / Cinematography – Giovanni Tomatis / Starring – Maria Jacobini, Arnold Kent, Helena Makowska, Ruggero Capodaglio | Running time: 78 mins.