by Roderick Conway Morris

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Not interested in truth

By Roderick Conway Morris
ITALY 19 September 2003


On March 16, 1978, in their most brazen attack, the Italian Red Brigades slaughtered Aldo Moro's driver and escort, spiriting away the Christian Democrat leader to a hideout. After 54 days, during which the authorities refused to negotiate with the terrorists, despite Moro's increasingly desperate letters pleading with his friends to intervene to save his life, the gang killed Moro in cold blood and left his body in the back of an abandoned car.This notorious episode is the inspiration for Marco Bellocchio's 'Buongiorno, notte' (Good Morning, Night). The failure of the film to win the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival this year resulted in a threat from Rai Cinema, the movie wing of the national broadcasting corporation, which put up money for the production, to boycott the Venice festival in the future. However, according to the veteran filmmaker Mario Monicelli, president of the Venice jury, the film was never in the running for the top prize.

In his director's notes, Bellocchio declares: 'Since I'm not a historian, I'm not interested in the truth.' Thus, he admits, he felt free to invent characters, situations and dialogue. Bellocchio relates his version through the eyes of a young terrorist, Chiara (Maya Sansa), who is not closely based on any of the actual protagonists.

But even as a fictional drama the film is less than convincing. The terrorists, who were young, naïve, amazingly self-righteous and suffering from the delusion that their actions would spark off a countrywide revolution, are neither frightening nor frightened enough to be credible. And the suspense that drives classic, semi-fictional political thrillers, such as Costa-Gavras's 'Z' and 'State of Siege,' is fatally lacking here.

Most damaging of all, however, is a series of whimsical dream sequences, offering an alternative, happy ending. This attempt to graft a feel-good factor onto a grim and brutal incident smacks of willful directorial self-indulgence. And for audiences not familiar with the story, Bellocchio's interpretation of it, which never seems quite sure where it is going, will only serve to confuse.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023