Academic journal article Italica

Film, Literature, and Terrorism: Mapping Italy's Political Landscape by Cinematic Means (1)

Academic journal article Italica

Film, Literature, and Terrorism: Mapping Italy's Political Landscape by Cinematic Means (1)

Article excerpt

1. Cinema as Protocol vs. Cinema as Argument

Political violence can hardly be said to escape, bote, or deter Italian film directors; indeed, in all of its variants it might well be counted among the most productive themes--in both quality and quantity--of the entire post-1945 period. (2) And even the narrower subgroup of terrorism proper has proven a very fruitful terrain for Italian filmmakers, albeit with a strangely asymmetrical focus of interest: i.e., one much more intensely centered on left-wing subversives than on their rightwing counterparts--a fact that, in and of itself, calls for (and will hopefully one day receive) closer critical inspection. (3) Among the films on anarchism and/or terrorista that are well-known to the public, or enjoy a high critical reputation, or both, one can count at least the following: Sacco and Vanzetti (1971) by Giuliano Montaldo; Saint Michael Had a Rooster (San Michele aveva un gallo, 1971) by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani; Love and Anarchy (Film d'amore e d'anarchia, 1973) by Lina Wertmuller; Curse You I Love You (Maledetti vi amero, 1979) by Marco Tullio Giordana; Dear Dad (Caro papa, 1979) by Dino Risi; The Tragedy ora Ridiculous Man (La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo, 1981) by Bernardo Bertolucci; Three Brothers (Tre fratelli, 1981) by Francesco Rosi; Strike at the Heart (Colpire al cuore, 1982) by Gianni Amelio; Secret Secrets (Segreti segreti, 1985) by Giuseppe Bertolucci; Devil in the Flesh (Diavolo in corpo, 1986) by Marco Bellocchio; The Moro Case (Il caso Moro, 1986) by Giuseppe Ferrara; The Second Time (La seconda volta, 1996) by Mimmo Calopresti; My Generation (La mia generazione, 1996) by Wilma Labate; The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventh, 2003) again by Giordana; and finally, Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, norte, 2002) again by Bellocchio.

All of these deal with extreme left-wing terrorists. As for those thematizing contemporary right-wing criminal subversion, one is outstanding in both sharpness and intensity: Franco Bernini's The Strong Hands (Le mani forti, 1997). And, for the record, it is also the only one.

Leaving to one side, for our present purposes, the diametrically opposed political orientation of the perpetrators therein depicted, one can safely state that all the films just mentioned share one and the same methodological approach: that of the historical inquiry. Of course they are all, to varying degrees, works of fiction, not documentaries (Ferrara's The Moro Case is probably the only full-fledged docudrama among them). The reconstructions they propose are not intended to replace those undertaken in books of history, and it would be rash of us to take their collective corpus as a reliable factual archive about the Italian terrorism of the 1970s and 80s. Yet it seems quite possible to consider them, taken as a whole, as an admirably precise representation--re-presentation, re-enactment--of the past: to consider them, that is, as works whose main effort goes toward (and whose greatest success lies in) the evocation of "what came to pass." The generations of the future will be able to hold them up as protocols of a bygone time that only historical discourse will by then be able to access and evoke.

Such films are perforce very diverse, and yet, beyond a certain different emotional coloring, they share a relative lack of interest in developing a specifically political argument. In some respect this lack of interest seems self-explanatory; the rejection of the ideas and methods of terrorism current in their narrated time is so natural that it could be pedantic for a film to rehearse it all over again within its brief narrative life span. But, over so many occurrences, the viewer is struck by the insistence with which these films refrain from arguing anything, and limit themselves instead to presenting 'case studies' to the public--the public of their time, and of ours. Ina word, it seems fair to say that none of the important films I have so far cited could be called an argumentative film. …

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