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Friday, May 5, 2006

Emotions, intuition, personal convictions

Good Morning, Night

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)
Director: Marco Bellocchi
Running time: 105 minutes
Language: Italian
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

In 1978 the Italian prime minister and leader of the Democrazia Cristiana (Democratic Christian Party) Aldo Moro was kidnapped and held captive for 55 days by Italy's extreme leftist group the Red Brigade. On the morning of day 56 Moro was executed and his funeral was later held in the Vatican.

News photo
Maya Sansa in "Good Morning, Night"

"Good Morning, Night" is filmmaker Marco Bellocchio's account of this incident, but he draws it not as a sensational docu-drama, but an introverted spiritual struggle. And the centerpiece of this unique exercise in understatement isn't the elegant, silver-haired Moro (Robert Herlitzka) or the ski-masked terrorists, but a young woman named Chiara (Maya Sansa).

As the sole female Red Brigade member there, her job was to provide respectability and provide a front for their activities. The first scenes show Chiara and another member renting an apartment for a supposed impending marriage, when in fact they were looking for a convenient hiding place to keep Moro. Chiara keeps a fake wedding ring in a glass bowl by the front door; she puts it on whenever the doorbell rings and takes it off when the intruder leaves. In the daytime she goes to work at the local university as a librarian and shops for groceries on her way home.

The brilliance of "Good Morning, Night" lies in the way Bellocchio blends the utterly mundane with teeth-gritting emotional intensity fueled by political conviction. The Red Brigade members take turns interrogating Moro and then argue over the state of the Italian proletariat with him. When the leader, Mariano (Luigi Lo Cascio), emerges from Moro's makeshift cell (concealed behind a bookcase), he's always drenched in sweat.

Yet much of the film is also about the Brigade sitting down to frugal dinners and bottles of wine, and carrying in trays of food to their captor, as if he's a sick grandfather (and Moro is always the epitome of gentle kindness) occupying the spare bedroom.

Chiara's daily activities are drawn in meticulous details about her long, slow days, spent stamping library books, and her semi-flirtatious relationship with colleague Enzo (Paolo Briggulia). He shows her a poetry book by Emily Dickinson; it is the same volume that Moro had been carrying when he was kidnapped.

Bellocchio subtly links such events together to add to the mood of almost fantastical realism: When the Red Brigade first carries Moro into the house, Chiara is minding a baby that had been thrust into her arms by a neighbor who needed to go shopping. As the baby coos on the sofa, the drugged and unconscious body of Moro, encased in a huge trunk, is dragged inside.

But it's clear Bellocchio isn't interested in the political as much as he is in the personal struggle that defines Chiara during this time. Indeed, the argument among the Brigade inevitably sinks into the monotony of their mantra "The worker must rule," and the film gently mocks their naivete (they're convinced that the kidnapping will instigate a worker's revolution, but in reality the Italian working class doesn't give a toss). The dialogue between Mariano and Moro is alluded to rather than actually seen or heard.

Chiara follows orders and is cooperative, but she can't stop herself from sympathizing with Moro and wishing that somehow, his life could be spared. In her dreams the old man gently undoes the lock to his prison cell and takes nocturnal strolls in the apartment, flipping through books or looking out the window. At dawn he disappears back into the cell before the Brigade members awake and start to prepare his breakfast. In Chiara's imagination Moro becomes a little bit bolder each night until finally he dons his coat, gently opens the front door and walks out.

Sansa is extraordinary as Chiara. The camera stays close to her face, tracing the turmoil that surfaces and then, in the next moment, recedes. She listens to but refrains from taking part in political discussions and sticks to carrying out the household tasks. Her feelings for Moro become apparent in the way she arranges his food on a tray, and in one scene, Moro asks his captors whether there's a woman in the group ("I can tell by the way my socks are laundered and folded").

Chiara is not allowed to show herself to Moro, but in a way, she has more contact with him than anyone else, and when she hears him talk about wanting to write to his grandson, she can't stop the tears from welling up. Elfin and child-like, she is powerless to prevent the rapid flow of events and decision-making that seals Moro's fate, however hard she wishes for his freedom.

At times Chiara's behavior just seems defeatist, but through her Bellocchio eloquently conveys the folly of giving one's all to ideology, and the importance of trusting emotions, intuition and personal convictions.

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