I'm feeling a little bummed, despite a nice dinner out with friends Saturday night. I actually feel haunted by two movies I watched over the past 10 days, both really wonderful films but both quite depressing in very different ways.
The first, which I watched last weekend on Maria's (http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/mariai/) recommendation was the 2004 Italian film "Buongiorno Notte" (Good Morning, Night) which tells the story of the kidnapping and execution in 1978 of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, head of the Christian Democratic Party. The kidnapping occured just as Moro's party was about to sign a power-sharing agreement deal with Italy's Communist party (both the left and right seemed to have seen this as a sell-out.)
Buongiorno Notte, a title loosely drawn from a verse by Emily Dickinson, tells the fascinating story of Moro's fate from an unusual perspective: that of one of the young Red Brigade terrorists who held Moro in an ordinarily-looking little apartment for 55 days before executing the politician.
We see the story through the eyes of Chiara (Maya Sansa), who works as a civil servant to cover up her terrorist activities. By night, she helps to guard Moro and provide cover for the rest of her terrorist cell. This includes the young woman's boyfriend and two other men, one of which poses as her husband when neighbours and the local priest come to call. The third man, the terrorist cell leader, is played by a very understated Luigi Lo Cascio who, like Maya Sansa, also starred in the Italian drama Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventù.)
The cell's domestic scenes -- watching TV news, eating soup, sleeping in shifts -- seem so weirdly ordinary and natural in such an unnatural setting. All seem won over by Moro's simple decency, his faith in God, love for his wife. Yet they refuse to bend when Moro argues -- very convincingly -- that by killing him, they are in fact doing precisely what Moro's rivals in government want. (Here the camera lingers on Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti. Some believe Andreotti may have seen a chance to get rid of a political competitor by letting the terrorists murder him. Both Moro and Andreotti were in the same political party, but came from very different branches.)
As the movie unfolds, it's apparent that Chiara feels increasingly conflicted. She respects Moro. Her work colleagues -- even Communist party members -- denounce the Red Brigade and its actions. Evening news broadcasts show that ordinary people don't approve of the kidnapping. Pope Paul VI appeals for Moro's release but supports the Italian government's stand that it will not bend to the conditions established by the terrorists to release the prisoner.
Despite frantic letter writing by Moro, the Brigate Rosse sentence him to death and the story comes to its tragic end. Eventually, the young terrorists are all captured themselves. In the end, who won anything? Moro's rivals, seems the only answer.
Completely unrelated is the Romanian film Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, which I watched a few nights ago. This 2007 film, written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, won the Palme d'Or two years ago. The film is set in Communist Romania in the final years of the Nicolae Ceauşescu era. It tells the story of two college friends' efforts to procure an abortion in the late 1980s when the procedure was a serious crime -- up to 10 years in prison for a late-term abortion.
What the young women must go through is harrowing -- and not only because of the legal and moral implications. Perhaps the darkest undercurrent is the horrible, oppressive political culture in which they live. This is as much a movie about totalitarianism as anything else. University students pick their course with an eye to where they will be "assigned" by government to work after graduation. Renting a room in almost deserted hotels is tightly controlled by the government, with arbitrary rules enforced by rather sadistic hotel staff who care only for their perks. Teachers must be bribed, transportation is near impossible, and buying products is almost entirely done on the black markets.
I'm still being haunted by the images from these young womens' lives in such a repressive regime.I suppose that's the mark of a really great film.