Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, Notte) Review

In 1978, an extreme Communist revolutionary group known as The Red Brigade, kidnapped Aldo Moro, a former Italian Prime Minister, then retired from politics. The three terrorists who carry out the kidnapping take their hostage to a small apartment in Rome owned by Chiara (Maya Sansa), a government worker who is also a member of their group. Chiara continues to go to work, carrying on a normal lifestyle and gauging the mood of her fellow workers and the people in the street. They find that they have little support from the political establishment, the media, the church or even the ordinary working class people the Red Brigade hope to mobilise through their actions. Aldo Moro was a popular figure, a peaceful and modest man, not radical or conservative, who was actually sympathetic to the Communist Party that had been excluded from taking part in any coalition government, and furthermore at the time of his kidnapping he was retired from political life. When the demands of the kidnappers and the letters of Aldo Moro written in captivity reach the public, the Red Brigade find the reaction of the public is increasingly hostile to their actions. They are branded murderers and assassins for their killing of the five policemen and bodyguards who were protecting Moro. They realise that they need to seek other ways to get their message across and have their demands met.

Buongiorno Notte is by all accounts a very accurate depiction of a particular period in Italy. In terms of a hostage drama, it is an extremely well-made and well-acted film, creating a particular climate of terror, paranoia and fear, even if it is not always perfectly clear what the terrorists hope to achieve by their actions – but then we still see terrorists do unspeakable things that alienate them from the public they claim to be fighting for. The film however is more than a hostage drama and it doesn’t all take place in one little room were Aldo Moro (played with a great deal of dignity by Roberto Herlitzka) is being held captive. Through archive footage and through Chiara’s interaction with her family, neighbours and colleagues at work, it gives a wider perspective on the attitudes in Italy towards the kidnapping and the wider social and political climate. Even this however rather limits the film, taking an event in Italy from the 1970s that has little resonance to a wider audience makes the film rather inward and backward looking at Italian society and has little to say to an international audience – a charge that was laid against the film when it failed to win at Venice 2003 despite unanimous acclaim it had from the Italian critics and viewers.

On a deeper human level however, the film has much of interest in its study of the mindset of terrorists and their blind belief in their cause. It cleverly focuses on one person, Chiara, superbly played by Maya Sansa, whose interior conflict is captured in some powerful dream sequences which capture her feelings of paranoia, political idealism and wish-fulfilment that she is unable to reconcile between her everyday life and her secret life as one of the most-wanted terrorists in the country. These reveries are supported by an unusual soundtrack that makes use of the floating soundscapes and soaring drive of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’, which capture the mood as well as being suited to the period, but they are risky pieces to use since the music is so well-known that it will have other resonances for people. The songs however have a way of lifting you out of the film to another place where you just want to let the music play out, which is interesting since this is exactly the kind of displacement that Chiara’s dreams wish to achieve. Although these sequences certainly add a deeper element to the film, they never manage to integrate entirely successfully, nor do the confusing allusions to an alternate playing out of events in a script of a kidnapping that Chiara’s colleague has written called… ‘Buongiorno Notte’.

Good Morning, Night is released on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye.

The picture quality is almost perfect. Colours are strong, the image is stable, there is not a mark or scratch on the print, and not a flicker of grain or macro-blocking artefacts. The only issue I had with the transfer is that it is a little dark – perhaps inevitable in a film where a lot of it takes place indoors in the darkened apartment where the terrorists are holding their prisoner. The contrast is very high however, almost chiaroscuro, which makes blacks fairly impenetrable, but shows an astonishing level of detail in the crisp sharpness of the image. A very impressive transfer.

The film comes with the choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. There is not a great deal of difference between them – both are strong clear and reverberating, but the 5.1 mix occasionally crackles to life with ambient effects and with the enveloping presence of the Pink Floyd tracks on the music score.

Optional English subtitles are included and are fine, clear and read well. They even move to the top of the screen on one occasion when they would otherwise obscure the figures speaking at the bottom. A simple thing, but it shows an impressive attention to detail.

Documentary – Same Rage, Same Spring (65:04)
A film like this needs a good documentary to fill in the background detail that is absent in the film, but although there are ample quotes and interviews with ex-brigadista’s, the events leading up to the kidnapping of Aldo Moro are left unexplored or simply taken for granted that the audience will already be familiar with them. On the other hand the documentary is an excellent exploration of the themes, passion and Catholic guilt that have driven Bellocchio’s films from his debut feature I Pugni in Tasca (1965) through all his main features right up to behind the scenes filming of Buongiorno Notte.

Marco Bellocchio biography
A brief biography charts Bellocchio’s early development, his move (like French contemporary Jean-Luc Godard) away from feature films into politically militant filmmaking and his subsequent return to mainstream filmmaking.

Theatrical Trailer (1:27)
Presented in 1.85:1 letterbox, the trailer uses the lift scene from the film in its entirety rather than a traditional montage, but doesn’t really capture the essence of the film as a hostage drama.

The events in Buongiorno Notte will mean a lot more to anyone who lived through the historical period of Italian political history depicted here or is familiar with the work of Marco Bellocchio, but to an outside viewer – and I would consider myself as one of those – the film loses a lot of the depth and resonance it might otherwise have. For most viewers this will operate simply on the level of a hostage drama and an exploration of the terrorist mindset and, at least in the choice of perspective through Chiara and her unique position on events, it remains interesting if not entirely successful. Artificial Eye give the film an impressive transfer to DVD, well supported by substantial extra features.

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