Buongiorno, Notte

Buongiorno, Notte/Good Morning, Night (2003 Italy 105 mins)

Prod Co: Filmalbatros S.r.l/Rai Cinemafiction/Sky Prod: Marco Bellocchio, Sergio Pelone Dir: Marco Bellocchio Scr: Marco Bellocchio, based on the novel Il prigioniero by Anna Laura Braghetti and Paolo Tavella Phot: Pasquale Mari Ed: Francesca Calvelli Prod Des: Marco Dentici Mus: Riccardo Giagni

Cast: Luigi Lo Cascio, Maya Sansa, Roberto Herlitzka, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Giovanni Calcagno, Paolo Briguglia

Ever since his blistering debut I pugni in tasca/Fists in the Pocket (1965), Piacenza-born director Marco Bellocchio has struggled to shrug off the lamentable label of “l’arrabbiato” or “angry young man”. In an interview from 1967, he moved to clarify that “I am not someone who bashes his head against the wall, haphazardly attacking everything and everyone […] I am a young man, yes, but the situation in Italy being what it is….” (1)

More than three decades (and 20 features) later, Bellocchio again provoked controversy by approaching one of the most tragic, murky events of Italian 20th century history: the kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the terrorist group Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) in 1978.

The title of the film, Buongiorno, Notte is inspired by the poem “Good Morning, Midnight” by Emily Dickinson (“Good morning midnight/I’m coming home/Day got tired of me/How could I of him”). The story has of course been brought to the screen before, notably by Giuseppe Ferrara in his 1986 film Il Caso Moro with Gian Maria Volonte as the ill-fated president of the DC. Bellocchio however eschews Ferrara’s solemn, quasi-documentary aesthetic for a highly subjective version of events, filtered through the consciousness of one of Moro’s captors, 20-year-old Chiara (Maya Sansa) who, along with fellow brigadisti Mariano (Luigi Lo Cascio), Ernesto (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) and Primo (Giovanni Calcagno), hold Moro hostage for 55 days in a Rome apartment.

In attempting to humanise the kidnappers, Bellocchio appears not to elicit sympathy, but to show how the ideology and methods of the Red Brigades were both contradictory and fundamentally flawed. In many ways, with its immersion in the experience of the protagonist, the film follows the concept of free indirect subjectivity, or cinema di poesia famously outlined by Pasolini in 1965.

The film unfolds largely within the confines of the captors’ apartment, and through the use of this single set Bellocchio and regular cinematographer Pasquale Mara construct a filmic space which serves both as the kidnappers’ physical cocoon from reality and as a symbol of the helpless detachment of the Red Brigades’ from the socio-political reality of the time. Their only link with the outside world is their flickering television. Switched on from noon to night, it fills the apartment not only with images, but also with sounds, everything from news bulletins to variety shows. It is with the TV that they celebrate New Year 1978, it is from the TV that Chiara first hears of the capture of Moro, and it is from the TV that they receive updates on public reaction to the kidnapping.

In a sequence immediately after the kidnapping, the three men arrive with Moro in an ominously coffin-like box. Chiara, having already learned of the operation’s success on the news, rushes to help them. Bellocchio allows the sound of the news report to run over the images of the kidnappers bungling Moro into their apartment and also introduces into the sound mix those famous four, eerie guitar chords from Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’.

Bellocchio’s use of non-diegetic music is highly accomplished. His use of the music of Pink Floyd, in particular, must surely count as one of the most intelligent recent uses of popular music in film. However, in contrast to Scorsese’s encyclopaedic knowledge of pop, Bellocchio has admitted to never having heard of Pink Floyd before including two of their pieces, “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”, in the film (2). The anguished cries of Claire Torry in the former song accompanies a brilliantly edited sequence in which Chiara reads a letter from Moro to his wife. A voiceover from Moro unveils the content of the letter. After a few sentences, it becomes clear that he voiceover is not in fact a reading of Moro’s letter but a reading from a book that sits on Chiara’s bedside table, a collection of letters from prisoners condemned to death during the World War II. Bellocchio, in merging past and present through the subjectivity of Chiara, uses this sequence to delineate how the struggle against fascism and the sacrifices of the resistance during the World War II have been forgotten. Organisations affiliated with the extreme-left are now committing the same atrocities as those of the extreme-right only three decades earlier. The director also intersperses images of Nazi atrocities to further strengthen the analogy.

“The art of politics is based on a capacity to understand and interpret reality” the director explains, “but the Red Brigades were completely removed from reality” (3). Buongiorno, notte is an attempt to recreate this alternate, skewed reality constructed by the kidnappers but it is through the character of Chiara that Bellocchio succeeds in giving a moral core to the film which cuts through the self-aggrandising rhetoric of the brigadisti.

Endnotes

  1. Marco Bellocchio interviewed in Filmcritica, quoted in Aldo Tassone, Parla il cinema italiano Volume 2, Il Formichiere, Milano, 1980, p. 9.
  2. Bellocchio was apparently introduced to Pink Floyd by his partner Francesca Calvelli, the editor of Buongiorno, Notte.
  3. Marco Bellocchio, interviewed in Stefano Incerti’s documentary Stessa Rabbia, Stessa Primavera (2003).

About The Author

Pasquale Iannone teaches Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is also a critic and broadcaster, regularly contributing to Sight & Sound and various BBC Radio programmes.