Sunday, September 5, 2010

Off The Shelf: Marco Bellocchio's Good Morning, Night

Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio is, along with Francesco Rosi (Christ Stopped at Eboli, Three Brothers) and Ettore Scola (The Family, Unfair Competition), likely his country’s best living director. Vincere, his 2009 film, which opened commercially earlier this year in the U.S., is a powerful look at the early days of Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) and Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the loving and loyal wife he betrayed and later expunged from his personal (and the country’s) history. It's an upsetting tale of personal fascism and those Italian citizens, doctors, politicians and ordinary folk alike, who aided and abetted the dictator as he, in effect, erased the lives of Dalser and his son, Benito, whom he saw as inconvenient obstacles in his rapid rise to power.

Bellocchio has dipped into Italy’s turbulent history before but never more effectively than in his 2003 film Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte) , which centers on the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s Christian Democrat party, by the Red Brigades terrorist group. (Bellocchio had also directed a 1995 documentary, Broken Dream (Sogni infranti), on the subject of Moro’s kidnapping and murder.)

The terrorist kidnapping and murder of Moro is a crime that is still being discussed and debated in Italy today. In Marco Bellocchio's remarkable film, it’s refracted as a dreamlike drama centered on ideology and debate -- a distinct contrast to our age of suicide bombings and casual mass murder. Good Morning, Night, however, does not offer an apologia for the terrorist Red Brigades; it portrays Moro, a charismatic politician, heartrendingly played by Roberto Herlitzka, with complete sympathy, and makes not the slightest effort to disguise or downplay the Red Brigade's hateful, dangerous Marxist rhetoric. But through the character of Chiara (Maya Sansa), the sole woman in the terrorist cell that kidnaps Moro, who's wrestling with a crisis of conscience, it also succeeds in getting under the terrorists' skin.

Good Morning, Night masterfully unveils a complex, confused world in which Moro, who historically brought the Italian Communist Party into a coalition government, is considered a bourgeois traitor to the proletariat by other Communists, namely his captors. Disturbingly, the film also suggests, with nuance and tact, that the reigning Italian government may have allowed Moro to die so as to have an excuse to crack down on legitimate dissent. Those salient political points, however, are really the background of the movie, which is primarily concerned with basic, meaty matters of life and death, faith, morality and guilt. Utilizing to stunning emotional effect Pink Floyd's haunting song "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Part One)," it tackles those weighty themes with uncommon intelligence and deep feeling. By the time Moro's destiny is played out on screen, viewers' tears will flow. Good Morning, Night, which is available on DVD, is a stunning achievement.

-- Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto.

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