« I just can't resist pop quizzes.... | Main | In bocca al lupo..... »

Perhaps it's time to rent Mama Mia!

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.

Comments (11)

Sandra, both of these sound very worth watching, though very intense. Kinda like the Enron doc I watched last weekend which stuck with me for several days.

Maybe you do need a Mamma Mia fix! I watched part of it on the plane coming home from Venice and while it's definitely a feel-good movie, I just don't like ABBA's music so I haven't been motivated to rent it and watch the whole thing.

I watched "Kinky Boots' this weekend - a feel-good movie with a GREAT soundtrack! So glad that you and Kathy raved about that one. I loved it.

Speaking of documentaries, my friend Cristiano in Venice was telling me how much young Italians admire and love Michael Moore! And when we went in the bookshop in the Padua train station, there was this whole wall of Michael Moore books and films, translated into Italian. It was kinda like a shrine! I think that's pretty cool since I consider him one of the good guys (glad he's being an ambassador abroad!).

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, these two movies seems pretty intense like Annie said. I find your reviews about the subject matter of these two movies very interesting. Being that I can get pretty affected by what I hear and watch, I know that I would be haunted by them too.

Thank you for taking the time to write these reviews. I definitely think a movie like Mamma Mia or even Kinky Boots would be good.

Hope you're feeling better.


Annie, intense is a very good description. And I've added the Enron film to my ziplist (for some extra intensity.)

You are right, ABBA is no solution to too much intensity. Kathy's suggestion of Kinky Boots -- which is fun and clever -- would be a better choice!

Sister Wendy is also helpful. I rewatched her commentary on Giotto last night, with its shots inside the Scrovegni Chapel. Fabulous!

That's really interesting about Michael Moore's Italian following. I suppose he fits into what I suspect is a somewhat cynical worldview held by many Italians(ie governments always lie to us.) Certainly, that's my worldview much of the time, so I'm a MM fan.

When I'm in Padua this year, I'm looking foward to finding a bookshop where I can pick up the Giotto book that you've mentioned on your blog. As you've pointed out, it doesn't seem available anywhere else.

Kathy, even just the trailer from Kinky Boots, which I saw yesterday on your blog site, has cheered me up! Now I'm bracing to watch the new film, Gomorrah, on the Naples- area mafia. The New York Times reviewed it Friday and it sounds v. good, if chilling.

I need to get Sister Wendy out and re-watch her Giotto episode now that I've seen the chapel! I might do that tonight.

I bought one of my Giotto books (Giotto in Padua) in the shop right there where you pick up your ticket (in the Musei Civici). It's a nice shop!

Both movies definitely sound intense! I think I would need to watch a light comedy after each one. Even though intense, both sound like important movies to see. I still have not seen Mamma Mia. Abba is not on my top 10 but I do love Meryl Streep.

There are lots of bookstores in Padova.

I just had a thought...now don't kill me, but what if you went to Bologna first instead of Parma and just did a daytrip to Parma. This would give you time to stay in both Padova and Ferrara??


Let me hasten to add that an affinity for ABBA music is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying Mamma Mia! I have NEVER liked ABBA, but I adore Mamma Mia...go figure. Maybe I have a secret crush on Meryl Streep! lol


Annie, your Giotto book is definitely on my list of things that I'd really like to find. I'm sure the bookshop at Padova's musei civici is filled with beautiful books and reproductions of the art there.

Girasoli, I've really been going back and forth on whether to spend more time in Bologna and do more day trips. I am intrigued with Parma, which is why I thought I'd stay there 3 nights. What do you think of Parma? I really don't like moving between hotels too often, but sometimes you can see an interesting side of a town at night when tour buses have gone.

Anne, Meryl Streep is brilliant, isn't she? I can't believe the contrast between the character she played in Mamma Mia, and the nun in Doubt (which I thought was fantastic.) She reallly is amazing!

I really enjoyed Parma. The food is great there and the Duomo is incredible. The historic center area is not very big so it is easy to get around. There is a beautiful piazza with lots of bars with outside seating and a great gelato place (near the Duomo). It is a difficult choice for sure. This might be a good question to ask on Slow Travel to get more opinions. I didn't mean to add another hotel stop but to switch Parma with Padova so you could do both Padova and Ferrara.


I really enjoyed Doubt too. Looking forward to seeing what they do with the play at Neptune Theatre next month. (Although it won't be the same without Meryl!)


Girasoli, thanks so much for all of your ideas! I'm glad to hear that you liked Parma -- it does look lovely.

I'm thinking a few nights in Parma, a week in Bologna (with a day trip to Ravenna) and then a few nights in Ferrara (with a day trip to Padua from there.) Hmmm, I think I could fill a blog entry with my planning!

Anne, I didn't realize that the Neptune is doing Doubt -- that's very brave, so close to the movie's release. It would be very interesting to see another interpretation!


Yeah, I'm thinking these movies may be a bit too much for me now (heck I freaked out at Wall-E). But I did add Kinky Boots to my Netflix queue.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)