| || ||Everyday Horrors |
GOOD MORNING, NIGHT
dir. Marco Bellocchio, Italy
In Good Morning, Night, director Marco Bellocchio offers a keyhole view into the daily life of terrorists who, despite their dimmed intelligence and knuckle-headed intuition, managed to pull off in 1978 what many Italians consider the crime of the century, Italy’s equivalent of the JFK assassination: the kidnapping and execution of Aldo Moro, a former Prime Minister and the country’s leading statesman.
This fact seemed to escape the many foreigners who saw the film at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Among these confused individuals were the many non-Italian jury members who admitted to being unsure whether or not the film’s hero (Moro) survived to tell his story. To answer the question for those still left in doubt by the film’s magical realist conclusion, Moro doesn’t make it. Following his kidnap and the 55 days of captivity during which the Red Brigades, his captors, put the statesman on trial in their suburban hideout, Moro’s corpse turned up crumpled and bullet-ridden in the back of a cherry red Renault. That image—along with the numerous letters that Moro wrote (and which Italy’s leading newspapers published as the tragedy unfolded) to his wife and to fellow leaders in his Christian Democratic party, pleading for someone to come to his aid—has been burned into the Italian subconscious.
The poignancy of Bellocchio’s glimpse into the quotidian side of those 55 days, therefore, may owe something to the audience’s awareness, an awareness that is ubiquitous in Italy, a land where conspiracy theories never run in short supply and terms like dietrologia—the study of looking back—describe the industry of books, films, and newspaper editorials that has evolved out of the need to keep Italians in touch with their nebulous past. Propelled by this zeitgeist, the slowly paced Good Morning, Night bears an intensity and deliberateness in its every gesture, no matter how mundane, as it inches toward its inevitable climax. But to the naked eye, that is, to any audience expecting the film to function as a work of art, autonomous to its historical context and better because of it, Good Morning, Night is simply… mundane.
Day one begins with Red Brigadier Anna (Maya Sansa) tidying up the apartment that’s to serve as Moro’s death row just moments before news of his kidnapping flashes across the television. She is interrupted by the doorbell. Upon answering, Sansa finds a perfect stranger who inexplicably unloads an infant upon her and bolts. The terrorist must now multitask between subversion of the state and babysitting. Thus, Bellocchio establishes the central contradiction between ideological extremism and everyday banalities. Since the film is seen through the eyes of the group’s only female member, such mundanity will be primarily domestic. She cooks dinner; she picks up the paper; she works at the library. Her labors find their masculine equivalent, meanwhile, in the lethargy of her comrades who spend most of the film either vegetating in front of the television, on the lookout for media reactions, or interrogating Moro with crude regurgitations of Marx.
As the historical subtext sets in, the irony quickly wears off and the audience gets stuck with a claustrophobically intimate view to a bachelor pad, where the residents say little and do nothing. As if sensing that life in the flat could use some ripples, Bellocchio resorts to whimsy, introducing a series of dream sequences intended to ignite the collective imagination, but which instead have a numbing effect on the film’s premise. Gripped by guilt over Moro’s captivity, Sansa experiences visions of the imprisoned ex-Prime Minister tiptoeing around the apartment, quiet as a mouse and free as a bird. These fantasies allow Sansa to effectively diffuse her inner conflict and carry out her deadly mission as if it were no more than the harsh reality of an unrealized dream. They also allow Bellocchio to dither in whimsical musings rather than undergo the labors of character development. In choosing distraction over development, Bellocchio cloaks his project in the costume of a psychological profile, without getting to the harder realities of what makes terrorism tick.
No doubt that Bellocchio’s whimsy is precisely that which the Red Brigadiers would ascribe to themselves—that of the angsty, misunderstood enemy of the state who just wants to dream. In classic “dietrological” fashion, Sansa’s real-life counterpart commented after seeing the film: “I was horrified. I imagined letting Moro go, but I didn’t do it. I stayed in the Red Brigades.” She didn’t just stay, she went on to participate in the cold-blooded killing of a college professor. Of course, such acts are beyond the reach of realism, not to mention moral judgment—they are the stuff of which dreams are made.
Good Morning, Night is currently without distribution.