Good Morning, Night: The Dark is Rising

Il Divo (2008) may have needed footnotes, but the satirical swipe at Giulio “Prince of Darkness” Andreotti revealed that Italian politics is never dull. In 1978, prime minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by a terrorist cell known as the Red Brigades. After nearly two months in captivity, he was found dead in the trunk of a car parked between the HQs of the two parties he hoped to reconcile. Il Divo implied that Andreotti may have somehow been complicit in his rival’s death—although this was never proven.

Marco Bellocchio’s Good Morning, Night (2003) relates this dark episode in Italian history from the Red Brigade’s perspective. The Best of Youth’s Maya Sansa plays Chiara, a ministerial clerk who is also a cell member. Posing as a married couple with fellow soldier Ernesto (Bellochio’s son Pier Giorgio), they rent the apartment in which Moro (Roberto Herlitzka) spends his last days. Chiara is the group’s link with the outside world, bringing back food and newspapers as she commutes to her job. She witnesses Italy fraying at the edges once the police begin arresting conspirators and the workers go on strike.

The Red Brigade are dreaming of a revolution which never comes. The group’s leader Mariano (the birdlike Luigi Lo Cascio, also from The Best of Youth) debates Moro in a “tribunal” that indicts his government. The rest spend most of their time watching TV hoping for action. In spite of Moro’s letters demanding the release of political prisoners, the government doesn’t budge.

Bellocchio provides a powerful sense of historical agents watching the events they set in motion wheel out of their control. The fortress/cell is surrounded by prying eyes and helicopters. A frequent motif is a point-of-view shot through a spyhole, whether into Moro’s tiny cell, decorated with a Red Brigade flag, or outside into the apartment complex hallway. The terrorists keep a pair of caged canaries, a time-honored cinematic symbol for imprisonment. These revolutionaries, as far as Bellocchio is concerned, are under glass. Even their movements around the apartment—particularly when they hide from unexpected visitors—has a choreographed quality to it. The characters also spend an inordinate amount of time staring into the camera, as if wondering what might lie beyond it. Bellocchio provides a clue to what that might be in the film’s final shots during Moro’s funeral. The camera pans over the grim-faced politicians who, in spite of the Pope’s entreaties, left Moro out to dry. Only one of Chiara’s companions figures it out. “We’ll kill him for them …”

This lends a meta-edge to the movie, particularly when Chiara reads a friend’s script called Good Morning, Night, which is apparently about terrorists who kidnap the prime minister. Dismissing the script as garbage, she starts to share the heroine’s doubts of her mission. Dreams of old Soviet film footage of Stalin give way to Nazi executioners when Mariano finally insists on Moro’s death.

Bellocchio provides an additional twist by providing two different endings to his film. In the first, Chiara dopes her friends and allows Moro to flees—a forgotten man, he escapes from both the Red Brigade and the even deadlier politicians he must deal in. In the second, reality sinks in. The Moro funeral we see takes place on Italian television, frequent snippets of which imply that Bellochio believes TV is the most reality-warping medium of all.

The film is dedicated to Bellocchio’s father and has a healthy sense of generational conflict. One of its most memorable scenes is also one of the few to take place in the open air. Chiara takes her friend Enzo (Paolo Briguglia) to a family wedding. During the reception feast, the older members of the party sing “The Anthem,” indulging in nostalgia for their own partisan ways underneath a sun that never seems to penetrate Chiara’s dark green apartment.

It’s a reminder for an audience of outsiders that the demarcation between the left and right in Italy was as striking as the divide between North and South. The idealism of the Red Brigades cannot withstand the cynicism of the Christian Democrats—or, in another telling scene, the medieval nature of the Catholic Church. Once, though, that idealism meant something.

Bellocchio wrote the adaptation of the book Il prigioniero with Daniela Ceselli, who also collaborated with the director on his 2009 film Vincere. Cinematographer Pasquale Mari was nominated for a Silver Ribbon for this film and 2005’s La passione di Giosue l’Ebreo (2005). The magnetic Sansa has yet to find stardom outside of Europe, although she recently played the part of Agnes Wickfield for an Italian TV adaptation of David Copperfield. Lo Cascio was seen in Spike Lee‘s Miracle at St. Anna. A vet of films like Wertmuller‘s Seven Beauties (1975), Herlitzka won a Silver Ribbon, Donatello and a prize at the Venice Film Festival for his performance as Mori.

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