When the Red Brigades kidnapped Italian President Aldo Moro in 1978, they didn't expect Moro's Christian Democrats and
the Communist Party and
the Vatican to refuse any form of dialogue with them. Neither did Moro. The State and Church response - "kill him if you want: we will not negotiate terms" - came as a nasty shock to captors and captured alike. (You can read the story here
It was the Red Brigades' grand gesture, and, ultimately, it was suicidal. The story is depressing for reasons other than the cruelty of it and its futile conclusion. For example, this squalid and confused Red Brigades operation, their ultimate
operation, revealed the corruption and desperation of the European Left at the end of the decade. It was losing and it was lost: the Red Brigades' failure to mobilise the Italian proletariat behind BR (or any) banners, and their inability to compromise the State, pointed to the decline of the Left as a motivating and politically humane and attuned force.
In tandem with this, it exposed the blank machinations of power, to which Moro was sacrificed. Moro wrote, in one of his many letters to family, friends and party: "What makes you suppose that the State would go to rack and ruin if, once in a while, an innocent man survives and, in exchange, another goes into exile instead of going to prison? This is what it all amounts to." (Moro suspected the application of political pressure by the US or Germany.) It became evident to the President, as it did to the Brigades, that the State had deemed their mutual elimination to be expedient - Moro being held responsible for the "grand compromise" between the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party, the result of his controversially brokered coalition.
And yes, it's depressing because, in this story, there's so very little to redeem, on behalf of the State or its underside. So the good thing about Marco Bellocchio's film Buongiorno, Notte
is the attempt to redeem something
: Moro's dignity maybe, or the mental disorder of the BR terrorists as their operation unraveled. Bellocchio's film also conveys, with an austere sobriety that carefully calibrates the tug of extreme fear and extreme self-control, the sudden dependence of Moro on his captors, and vice versa. In one scene, they agree to listen to a letter he's written to the Pope: he asks if they like it or can suggest improvements (it makes one of them cry).
This is often seen, in Leonardo Sciascia's The Moro Affair
for example, as the President's tragedy. Bellocchio is brave because he shows the four Red Brigade actors as slaves to events they cause but cannot control, and self-imposed ideology that determines action and reaction. They resort to increasingly demented ideological contortions to justify the act, as its repercussions intensify, and residual human instinct gnaws away (the historical resonance lies in the Red Brigades real life split over Moro's murder).
Chiara, played by Maya Sansa, is the centre of this drama. Her rigid-faced enactment of duty embodies the dry, mundane, half-dead nature of the Red Brigades' condition: the pathological investment of faith and its limits, elimination of debate and dissent, and suppression of sensuality. This sombre, fierce conviction is softened, or compromised, by reflexive flashes: Bellocchio uses Sansa's smile to sparse but dazzling effect.
Bellocchio ends his film before Moro's assassination. The President's corpse was found in a red Renault 4 on Via Caetini in Rome, half way between the offices of the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party. Pointless to even include this pointless conclusion. Buongiorno, Notte (Marco Bellocchio, 2003)