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|Italian Cinema and the 'anni di piombo' more
by Alan O'Leary
Journal of European Studies 40(3)
elaborate suspicions about the strategists of right-wing terrorism and to allude to the news imagery that depicted its effects because these lent themselves to translation into the developing conventions and top of the form (Pergolari, 2007: 160).
This is con-
firmed by the fact that the inaugural film of the cycle of cop films already contains a representation of right-wing vigilantism and of a subversive plan for an authoritarian takeover of the state.
La polizia ringrazia
(The Law Enforcers, dir. Stefano Vanzina, 1972) was immediately imitated because of its box-office success, and contains the features that would be embellished and recombined in the more than one hundred films of
the cycle (Curti, 2006: 7, 97). These include the irascible protagonist, a police captain restrained by a media and magistrature overly concerned with procedure and civil rights (he became meaner and more muscular in subsequent films); shady high-level figures to the political right (based in state institutions or multinational business) who have the protagonist eliminated because of his respect for the spirit if not the letter of the law; a female love interest who is either a non-entity or (as here) a tacit threat to the potency of the hero, in this case (as elsewhere) a journalist; explicit violence and other conventionalized action sequences, especially shootouts and car chases which invariably feature the
death of an innocent caught under the wheels or in the crossfire; didactic dialogue that explicates the stages of the plan for the takeover of the state and the ideology behind that plan; and so on, including the transitive verb in the title left ominously suspended sans object (the title literally means ‘the police thank’).
The ‘collateral’ death of the passer-by or kidnap victim, a staple in the cycle of films, stands for the sense of insecurity of the Italian urban dweller, and the violent policeman is a compensatory surrogate who assuages or avenges that insecurity (while ultimately
confirming it with his death). However, there is a sense in which the exaggerated violence projected onto the streets of Italy has a celebratory aspect. ‘Rome as Chicago’ is how the great historian of Italian cinema Gian Piero Brunetta (2007: 413–14) entitles a
short piece on these cop films. In the films themselves this comparison is intended to flatter.
Italian cinema and the ‘anni di piombo’ Alan O’Leary University of Leeds Journal of European Studies 40(3) 243–257 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0047244110371912 http://jes.sagepub.com Abstract This essay provides an introduction to the representation and working through in Italian cinema of the experience of terrorism during the ‘leaden years’ (anni di piombo, 1969–c. 1983). It begins by discussing the key terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘anni di piombo’ themselves before providing a short history of the different terrorisms in Italy during the long 1970s. The remainder of the essay is given over to a discussion of the key films, genres and modes that have dealt with the events or memories of that terrorism. Genres include the cop film, Italian-style comedy and auteurist films. Key titles include Cadaveri eccellenti (Illustrious Corpses, dir. Francesco Rosi, 1976), Colpire al cuore (A Blow to the Heart, dir. Gianni Amelio, 1982), La seconda volta (The Second Time, dir. Mimmo Calopresti, 1995), and Buongiorno, notte (Good Morning, Night, dir. Marco Bellocchio, 2003). Keywords anni di piombo, historical memory, Italian auteurist cinema, popular Italian cinema, strategy of tension, terrorism The words we use ‘Terrorism’ is as vexed a term as it is a fascinating subject. Some part of the fascination resides in its troublesome definition, and the question of who has the capacity to brand an act or an actor as ‘terrorist’. In fact, there is no satisfactory definition of ‘terrorism’ – none that is both precise and widely accepted. Even legal definitions tend to be characterized by a deliberate vagueness, and so reveal the extent to which they are formulated as an instrument of security or military policy for the defining agency, facilitating the demonization of the antagoniste du jour. My intention is not, however, to correct common misconceptions about the character of terrorism (I will now dispense with the quotation marks), and, although I describe the various forms of terrorism in Italy, nor is it to set the record straight about terrorist violence Corresponding author: Alan O’Leary, Department of Italian, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT UK Email: email@example.com 244 Journal of European Studies 40(3) there or anywhere else. I am not concerned here with the study of facts or events but with the formalized perceptions and memories of such events, as articulated in the medium of film. It would therefore be inappropriate to set out a definition of terrorism or terrorist in order to test the extent to which the characters or incidents portrayed in an individual film correspond to it. It is neither my nor the scholarly community’s normative understanding of terrorism that is at issue here, but a more diffuse or nebulous set of perceptions at work, and in flux, in the wider (Italian) culture from the 1970s to the present day. The experience of terrorism and political violence in the period known in Italy as the ‘leaden years’ or anni di piombo (1969–c. 1983) continues to exercise the national imagination and that of Italian film-makers to a remarkable degree. Indeed, Italian cinema has played a prominent role in articulating the ongoing impact of the anni di piombo and in defining the ways in which Italians remember and work through the events of the long 1970s. Each year sees the release of one or more films addressing the atrocities and traumas of those years; at the time of writing, the most recent title is La prima linea (The Front Line, dir. Renato de Maria), distributed in Italy in November 2009, and hotly debated in the Italian press. The effect of the cinema has been felt in surprising ways. Anni di piombi was the Italian title given to a German film, Margarethe Von Trotta’s Die bleierne Zeit (1981, released as The German Sisters in the UK and Marianne and Juliane in the USA), which was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1981 Venice film festival, and tells the story of two German sisters (based on Christiane and Gudrun Ensslin) who become politicized when confronted with the horror of images of the concentration camps and the carnage in Vietnam. In response, one opts for armed struggle and clandestinity. Following the film’s Venice festival success the phrase anni di piombo begins to appear in Italian newspapers, applied retrospectively to the period beginning with the bombing of a bank in Piazza Fontana, Milan, in December 1969 (Saulini, 1987: 76). According to Von Trotta (Di Caprio, 1984: 56), the film’s title (literally ‘the leaden time’) was intended to refer to the ‘leaden’ weight of history – a weight that impressed itself on the present also in the form of terrorism. Such an association is lost in the Italian translation (literally ‘the years of lead’).1 In the metaphorical allusion to bullets, the term is suggestive of left-wing violence alone, because it appears to exclude the bombings characteristic of right-wing terrorism (see below). Nonetheless, and as with the term terrorism, the common currency of the phrase anni di piombo means that we must continue to use it. Italian terrorisms According to official Ministry for the Interior figures, over 14,000 terrorist attacks were committed in Italy in the years between 1969 and 1983, resulting in 374 deaths and more than 1170 injuries. The anni di piombo are seen to have begun with the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan (16 dead and 88 injured), one of a coordinated series of bomb attacks on 12 December 1969. Initially blamed on anarchists, Piazza Fontana was soon revealed to be an act committed by the far right and facilitated to a greater or lesser degree by the Italian secret services. The characteristic method of the far right was large-scale bombing, an approach dubbed ‘stragismo’ (literally ‘massacre-ism’). Stragismo was associated with the ‘strategy of tension’, a campaign to establish a ‘presidential’ or quasi-authoritarian O’Leary 245 type of political system in Italy by throwing the state into a law-and-order crisis that would make a takeover by the military or far right seem desirable to the Italian populace. Narrowly defined, the strategy of tension was implemented between 1969 and 1974 (when eight were killed and 103 injured in a bomb in Brescia); stragismo refers to the more autonomous use of indiscriminate massacre by neo-fascist groups which enjoyed the protection of the state intelligence services, and which continued well beyond 1974, reaching its horrific apogee with the Bologna station bombing of 2 August 1980.2 Initially at least as a reaction to stragismo and the strategy of tension, some left-wing militants from worker or student backgrounds chose to undertake what they referred to as an armed struggle, forming groups like the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades, BR) and the later Prima Linea (Front Line). ‘Armed struggle’ translated into the kidnapping, kneecapping, and eventually assassination of policemen, journalists, judges, politicians and businessmen. The most notorious action of left-wing terrorism was the kidnap of politician Aldo Moro by the BR in 1978. His five bodyguards were murdered and he himself was killed after 54 days of captivity. Though left-wing terrorism persisted for several years after 1978, the Moro killing alienated the armed groups of the left from a significant area of support that had previously sustained it. The reorganization of anti-terrorist forces and the criminalization and repression of the extra-parliamentary left following the Moro murder marked this event as the beginning of the end for Italian terrorism. Emergency anti-terrorist laws led to mass arrests in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Such laws increased convictions and sentences for common crimes committed by those the law defined as terrorists, while offering substantial reductions of the punishments to terrorists willing to collaborate with justice and turn state’s witness (the phenomenon known as pentitismo, ‘penitentism’). It is important to be aware, however, that even as the vast majority of left-wing terrorists and almost all their actions have been explained and punished, many right-wing terrorist attacks remain incompletely accounted for (Cento Bull, 2007). Likewise, the Italian state has never revealed the extent of its covert support for right-wing terrorism. For these reasons Italian historian Silvio Lanaro (1992: 433) has written of Italy’s defeat of terrorism as ‘half a victory’ (‘vittoria a metà’). By the mid-1990s, most of the 5000 people tried for terrorist offences began to reenter society; fewer than a hundred remain in prison and many of those are allowed to work outside jail. The (re-)emergence of a group calling themselves the (new) Brigate Rosse in the late 1990s therefore seemed an anachronism, but its actions were real enough: the new BR murdered two advisors on government labour policies, Massimo D’Antona in 1999 and Marco Biagi in 2002. Subsequent arrests may or may not have dealt this organization a fatal blow. Italian terrorisms/Italian cinema3 For much of the 1970s it was not the culturally valued, politically committed or auteurist cinema that addressed the problem or phenomenon of terrorism but the genres of the cop film (the poliziesco) and the so-called Italian-style comedy (commedia all’italiana). The cop films tended to focus on the ideologies and activities of the far right and on the state’s covert support for neo-fascist aspiration.4 The poliziesco was well equipped to 246 Journal of European Studies 40(3) elaborate suspicions about the strategists of right-wing terrorism and to allude to the news imagery that depicted its effects because these lent themselves to translation into the developing conventions and topoi of the form (Pergolari, 2007: 160). This is confirmed by the fact that the inaugural film of the cycle of cop films already contains a representation of right-wing vigilantism and of a subversive plan for an authoritarian takeover of the state. La polizia ringrazia (The Law Enforcers, dir. Stefano Vanzina, 1972) was immediately imitated because of its box-office success, and contains the features that would be embellished and recombined in the more than one hundred films of the cycle (Curti, 2006: 7, 97). These include the irascible protagonist, a police captain restrained by a media and magistrature overly concerned with procedure and civil rights (he became meaner and more muscular in subsequent films); shady high-level figures to the political right (based in state institutions or multinational business) who have the protagonist eliminated because of his respect for the spirit if not the letter of the law; a female love interest who is either a non-entity or (as here) a tacit threat to the potency of the hero, in this case (as elsewhere) a journalist; explicit violence and other conventionalized action sequences, especially shootouts and car chases which invariably feature the death of an innocent caught under the wheels or in the crossfire; didactic dialogue that explicates the stages of the plan for the takeover of the state and the ideology behind that plan; and so on, including the transitive verb in the title left ominously suspended sans object (the title literally means ‘the police thank’). The ‘collateral’ death of the passer-by or kidnap victim, a staple in the cycle of films, stands for the sense of insecurity of the Italian urban dweller, and the violent policeman is a compensatory surrogate who assuages or avenges that insecurity (while ultimately confirming it with his death). However, there is a sense in which the exaggerated violence projected onto the streets of Italy has a celebratory aspect. ‘Rome as Chicago’ is how the great historian of Italian cinema Gian Piero Brunetta (2007: 413–14) entitles a short piece on these cop films. In the films themselves this comparison is intended to flatter. The metropolis envy which identifies the Italian urbs with the very exemplum of modernity, the American city, presents the degradation, criminality and political terrorism of contemporary Italy as essential to its vitality. This operates as part of the films’ compensatory or consolatory function: the sense of insecurity, the danger of mugging, murder massacres or coups d’état, is arguably a source of pride, not regret. Something similar might be said about an auteurist version of these cop films. Wood (2005: 111) has called Italian auteur cinema ‘not so much a distinct entity in itself, as the intellectual and/or better-funded end of national genre production’, and Francesco Rosi’s Cadaveri eccellenti (1976) seems to confirm this. The film is a fable about the strategy of tension and its plot concerns the discovery of a conspiracy – a planned military coup – by a detective investigating a series of murders. However, Rosi shows Italian democracy to have already been compromised by corruption, by state collusion with the mafia, and by the oppressive presence of surveillance (the latter is expressed in passages of great formal brilliance including a highly unusual sound design). Cadaveri eccellenti portrays Italian society as a kind of panoptical prison from which escape is impossible and in which political opposition is a convenient pretext for repression. The use of conspiracy theory in this and other Italian films in the 1970s and since gives expression to disquiet or dissatisfaction about the manner in which Italy has been O’Leary 247 governed (Wood, 2003), but it may also risk ascribing an exaggerated competence and potency to the conspirators, in this case the representatives of the Italian ruling order. If the conspirators’ will is shown to be irresistible, then resistance to it is pointless, and political activism or reformist aspiration is thereby allegorized as vain. Indeed, for a film like Cadaveri eccellenti, intended to denounce the masterminds of the strategy of tension, the use of the conspiracy mode might have the paradoxical effect of confirming the far right’s conception of society as ruled by violence, and of validating the view that effective administration of power is the only genuine concern. Questions of ethics are certainly present in Cadaveri eccellenti, but these risk seeming ‘unrealistic’, in the sense that they are irrelevant to the ‘real’ questions of political survival and national strength: ‘real’ concerns that can be used to justify any atrocity up to and including the massacre of Italian citizens. The other genre that responded promptly to the presence of political violence in the 1970s was the commedia all’italiana, in Mordi e fuggi (Dirty Weekend, dir. Dino Risi, 1973), a trio of films directed by Mario Monicelli (Vogliamo i colonelli (We Want the Colonels, 1973); Caro Michele (Dear Michael, 1976); Un borghese piccolo piccolo (An Average Man, 1977)), I nuovi mostri (Viva Italia, dir. Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, 1977) and Caro papà (Dear Papa, Dino Risi, 1979). The commedia all’italiana was first recognized as a distinct phenomenon in Italian cinema in the late 1950s, initially and aptly labelled as commedia di costume (comedy of manners) (Camerini, 1986). The concerns of a comedy of manners are with ‘the behaviour and deportment of men and women living under specific social codes’ (Cuddon, 1991: 170), and the commedia all’italiana relied on the construction of a ‘typical’ but often grotesque Italian, usually male, identified with a set of iconic faces: hugely popular actors such as Alberto Sordi, Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman. The identification with the actor was an effective means of involving the audience in the critique of its own behaviour, and of allowing the viewer no exit from his or her own complicity with the violence (of workplace, home or street) of the period. Thus Mordi e fuggi can use the flip tone of the cynical 1960s comedy to introduce the more tragic outcomes of the following decade. It takes a stock comic figure, a philandering fop in a sports car played by Marcello Mastroianni, and has him kidnapped by a group of anarchists fleeing from a bank raid; kidnappers and hostage alike will die before the guns of a trigger-happy police. The fact that terrorist violence was featured in these films was in itself a significant, even polemical, move: it asserted that such violence was not alien but inherent to Italian society, and characteristic of its ‘manners’. Proximity to the escalating seriousness of events between 1979 and 1982, the years immediately following the Moro kidnap, seems to encourage psychoanalytical interpretation in the films made in the period, all of which represent the anni di piombo in terms of Oedipal conflict. Caro papà, La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo (The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 1981) and Colpire al cuore (A Blow to the Heart, dir. Gianni Amelio, 1982) all fit this model. The Oedipal characterization of conflict may well be a useful insight into the origins of Italian terrorism. It might be a way of encoding the perception that there existed a generational block and that an immovable gerontocracy held a monopoly of power.5 On the other hand, it may simply be a sign of what Sorlin calls the ‘fashion’ for Freud in Italian cinema (1996: 136). More suggestively, another critic locates the use of Oedipal myth in Italian cinema in the context of the upheavals of the late 1960s: 248 Journal of European Studies 40(3) In the films made during and after May 1968, unity turned to disunity among regions and classes, and continuity to discontinuity with one generation questioning the legacy of the previous one. Because, in the wake of Vico’s historicism and under the influence of Catholic thought, they assume that the past is the father and that the Italian body politic is male, filmmakers translate this interrogation of the past into the plot of the Oedipal myth. (Dalle Vacche, 1992: 15) Still, we should remember that the dyad of son/father (or of son/father-figure) is a longstanding feature of Italian cinema, and is often found in those films which construct themselves as an intervention into the life of the nation: one might think of Alessandro Blasetti’s Vecchia guardia (Old Guard, 1934), or Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948). Considered as part of this tradition, it is clear that the use of the Oedipal mode, whether understood in mythical or Freudian terms, was a means of figuring conflict rather than concord at the centre of the nation, and an index of a society decidedly out of joint. Colpire al cuore finds a particularly potent means of figuring this discord by having a son suspect his father of terrorist activity rather than the more typical reverse. In this version of the Oedipal conflict the son ‘defeats’ his father by denouncing him to the police but the film keeps an equal distance from both protagonists, privileging neither character and allowing both to seem unsympathetic. It closes with the capture of the older man as the camera absents itself in an extended reverse tracking shot. Tre fratelli (Three Brothers, dir. Francesco Rosi, 1981) avoids the Oedipal mode but also projects the problem of terrorism onto a familial context, with the family here evidently standing in for the nation itself. The trope of the family as nation has particular force in Italy where, as Ginsborg (2001: xiii) writes: family is very important, both as metaphor and as reality. In terms of metaphor, it is omnipresent … it is striking how often the family is taken as the metaphor for other social or political aggregations, rather than the other way round. In other words, it is not the state or any organization in society which provides examples for the family, but the family which provides metaphors and roles models for society and the state. The theme of Tre fratelli might be summed up as the state of contemporary Italy, and its purview emerges clearly from the starkness of its allegory. Three brothers return from the emblematic cities of Turin, Rome and Naples to a remote village in Puglia to attend their mother’s funeral. Each brother represents a different ‘issue’ and generation (one brother is in his thirties, the next in his forties and the oldest in his fifties). Their professions – factory worker, social worker, judge – were, according to the director, intended to symbolize ‘the country’s three major problems’: industrial confrontation, social deprivation and terrorism (Ciment, 1981: 46). The film features a bloody terrorist attack: the assassination on a Roman bus of the eldest brother, Judge Raffaele Giuranna. However, the assassination is in fact dreamt by the character himself, a nightmare which expresses his fears about working on terrorist prosecutions. The implication is that the terror of violence is suffered by the ‘social mind’ to a degree well beyond its effects on individual bodies; and, furthermore, it is experienced according to photographic representation and received modes of genre O’Leary 249 understanding: that is to say, the dream assassination is staged in the thriller mode of the poliziesco. In other words, the judge is imagining his own death in the terms provided by genre cinema. His grimacing assassins are anonymous eruptions, literally from Raffaele’s unconscious, and also from the collective unconscious or shared image-bank provided by news reports and fictional images in the Italy of the period. Tre fratelli is best described in Bakhtinian rather than Freudian terms and is constructed as a dialogical forum, not as a narrative according to the Aristotelian pattern. In its juxtaposition of conflicting discourses which do not achieve integration, it anticipates later films such as La seconda volta (The second time, dir. Mimmo Calopresti, 1995); and it links such films in turn to neorealist cinema (it contains specific allusions to Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà, 1946). At the same time, it also anticipates later films that deal with terrorism such as La meglio gioventù (The Best of Youth, dir. Marco Tullio Giordana, 2003), Piazza delle Cinque Lune (Five Moons Square, dir. Renzo Martinelli, 2003) and Romanzo criminale (Crime Story, dir. Michele Placido, 2005), which employ similarly ravishing images of Italy that ‘owe as much to the iconography of advertising, tourism and the heritage industry, as to the inheritance of neorealism’ (Wood, 2005: 198). A group of films dating from the mid-1980s attempts to portray the moral atmosphere surrounding pentitismo, when jailed terrorists confessed their crimes and informed on their comrades in return for reduced prison sentences. In Segreti segreti (Secrets Secrets, dir. Giuseppe Bertolucci, 1984), the terrorist is figured as an affluent tomboy child playing at revolution. She ruthlessly murders a judge and a member of her own group in the opening scene; later she is shown wearing bright wellington boots while sitting in a boyish pose in the garden of the country mansion in which she was raised, first cleaning her gun and then sorting through her childhood toys. When she is caught she submits immediately, in the film’s final scene, to interrogation by a policewoman and gives up all she knows about her ‘bravi compagni’ (worthy comrades). Her act of informing recalls the phenomenon of pentitismo that had rewarded apprehended terrorists for their acts of betrayal. What is also striking is that the terrorist is female; indeed in a film dominated by female characters (played by familiar actors from several generations, including Alida Valli, Mariangela Melato and Lina Sastri, who plays the terrorist), male characters are marginal and/or absurd. As Ruth Glynn has argued in relation to Segreti segreti, the figure of the violent woman is likely to feature in cinema at moments of ideological or cultural crisis. Her emergence in representation in Italy in this period is not any sort of ‘reflection’ of women’s increased participation in violence in society but is a symptomatic reaction to the ongoing collective trauma of terrorism, and one of the methods, pentitismo, being used to deal with it (Glynn, forthcoming). This explains the too-neat ending of Segreti segreti: the female terrorist’s precipitate capitulation to (polite) police questioning is an index of the cultural fantasy, articulated by the film, of pentitismo as a panacea for terrorism. Marco Bellocchio’s Diavolo in corpo (1986) has been described as the first film ‘on the Italy of post-terrorism’ (Morando Morandini in Natalini, 2005: 185). It shares with the first film to deal at length with the Moro kidnap, Il caso Moro (The Moro Case, dir. Giuseppe Ferrara, 1986), both a date of release and a then unusual focus on the victims of terrorism. For Glynn, Bellocchio’s film also ‘feminizes’ terrorism – even if in this case the female lead, Giulia, is a victim rather than a perpetrator of political violence. The 250 Journal of European Studies 40(3) problem, for Italian society, is that victims as well as terrorists had to be silenced in order for that society to repress the trauma of terrorism, but the victim is ultimately more threatening because she may not legitimately be silenced. In this way, the character of Giulia in Diavolo in corpo becomes another symptom of the unfinished business of the anni di piombo: the daughter of a murdered carabiniere colonel shown to be ‘hysterical’ with grief, she has her victimhood acknowledged in a brief, ambiguous scene, but that victimhood is extravagantly disavowed by an uninhibited eroticism and her implausible betrothal to a repentant terrorist. Symbolically, her fiancé, the former terrorist, is meant to displace the assassinated father: the detour through the armed struggle has merely postponed the terrorist’s assumption of the role of patriarch, just as socialization is achieved, Freud tells us, through the surmounting of the Oedipus complex. Giulia, however, embarks on a passionate affair with a high school student – which is celebrated by the film – and in so doing implicitly rejects father and husband, society and family, and even the ideological as such in favour of the carnal. In terms of the film’s cryptic encoding of national anxieties, the situation of the lovers suggests a desire that the anni di piombo should not end. The central irony of the film is that, for the affair to continue as it has begun, normality must not be restored, Giulia must not marry her pentito (and so aid his release), and the terrorist ‘leaden years’ must not end. Indeed, both Segreti segreti and Diavolo in corpo clearly demonstrate that, pace Morandini, the anni di piombo had not yet ended by the mid-1980s. Terrorism continues to operate as a divisive force in Italian national life. The widespread debate in the 1990s on the justice of granting a form of pardon (indulto) to former terrorists in prison would suggest that the conditions were then finally in place for an end to terrorism and the emergency laws drafted in response to it. These conditions included the end of the Cold War, which led to a reduction of external interest in Italy on the part of the old international protagonists of the West and East, and which contributed to the collapse of a fossilized Italian political system in the early years of the decade. However, Cento Bull (2007) has recently argued that the anni di piombo have not been allowed to end because their divisive memory can be exploited in a contemporary political culture in Italy that is once again polarized into right and left. This is despite a coincidence of attempts in the political and cultural arenas during the 1990s to conduct some sort of reconciliation process. Indeed, some prominent figures argued, though in vain, for the institution of a truth and reconciliation commission on the South African model (Fasanella et al., 2008). The group of films I now discuss were themselves part of this effort to consign this past to history, even if they intimate in one way or another the prematurity of the attempt. The first of these is Donne armate (Women in Arms), a poliziesco made for television by the veteran director Sergio Corbucci and shown on Italian state television’s second channel in 1991. In the film Nadia, an unrepentant left-wing terrorist played by the same Lina Sastri encountered in Segreti segreti, enlists the help of the young policewoman, Angela, from whom she has escaped, and the two attempt to uncover a criminal plot involving both former terrorists and the police. The plot is duly undone and, though wounded while selflessly coming to Angela’s aid, Nadia is safely returned to prison. In several respects, Donne armate is a crude action picture which explicitly signals its generic character. It suffers from weak causality in the plot and undermotivated behaviour O’Leary 251 by the protagonists. As a result it is extremely ‘unrealistic’ and likely to exasperate those looking for information about the persistence of the terrorist organizations after the anni di piombo, or some insight into state complicity with terrorist organizations. Nonetheless, the film performs some important symbolic work on behalf of its audience. For our purposes it is enough to consider the casting of Lina Sastri as Nadia, evoking as it does Sastri’s character in Segreti segreti, the murderous terrorist ensnared by police at the film’s close. In the later film, Sastri’s Nadia is recuperated as fundamentally good over the course of the film. Though returned to prison she is granted a form of symbolic readmission to society and nation. Thus the genre thriller Donne armate anticipates the ‘serious’ committed cinema produced later in its recuperation of the errant terrorist into something like the national family. The theme of La seconda volta, the most important of these later films, is the encounter of victim with terrorist, and the failed attempt to put a seal on the past. La seconda volta narrates the ‘second’ and subsequent meetings of a college professor with his wouldbe killer, encountered coincidentally when she is on day-release from prison to attend work placement. The film is very loosely based on the true story of a prison architect, Sergio Lenci, who survived an assassination attempt by the group Prima Linea but lived out his life with the assassin’s bullet lodged in his brain (Lenci, 1988). This bullet assumes in the film a symbolic valence, standing for the real and continued presence of the experience of terrorism even a decade and more after the putative close of the anni di piombo. A significant difference between Lenci’s story and that presented in La seconda volta is the gender of the assassin in the film. The pervasive belief that violence performed by a woman is less ‘natural’ than violence performed by a man lends a particular tenor to the encounter in the film of the former terrorist and her victim. La seconda volta slyly encourages the spectator to expect a resolution (not provided) of the victim/assassin dialectic in terms of the physical synthesis of coitus. This is part of a narrative strategy in the film of raising generic expectations that are ultimately frustrated, itself part of a wider promise and then refusal of pleasure in the film as a whole. The film contains none of the implicitly promised sex; it has an ambiguous, even perplexing ending; it manifests an ambivalent attitude to the two protagonists registered also in formal terms (for example, a sparing use of close-up). And it features an early anagnorisis that happens just over halfway through the film, after which it changes key abruptly and, from the point of view of the pleasure of a spectator left with a sense of anti-climax, most unsatisfactorily. In the Aristotelian terms that remain pervasive in cinema narrative, La seconda volta is ‘bad’ or at least unsatisfying cinema. This is not clumsiness, but a deliberate formal and political strategy: the filmmakers intentionally frustrate or subvert the standards by which a narrative is conventionally judged good or bad (Bruni, 1995: 49). Indeed, the narrative irresolution of the film suggests that no shared or national super-narrative can (yet?) be achieved beyond the individual versions of victim and assassin (Lombardi, 2000: 201, 210). The terrorist is again female in La meglio gioventù and Buongiorno, notte, both films that refer in their different ways to the metaphor of the family. La meglio gioventù is a six-hour mini-series made for and (eventually) shown on Italian television, but also successfully given an international cinema release. Among other things the film is a ‘working through’ of the trauma of terrorism on behalf of the leftist constituency to which it is directed. It is a family saga constructed around two brothers and spans nearly four 252 Journal of European Studies 40(3) decades. Not a film about terrorism specifically, it nonetheless portrays the descent into terrorist clandestinity of a mother, Giulia, the partner of the ‘good’ brother. Giulia’s abandonment of the family for the BR, followed by her halting reintegration at the end of the film, returns the depiction of the terrorist in Italian cinema to the modes of emplotment adopted by Colpire al cuore and Segreti segreti: the portrayal of Italian terrorism as a dysfunctional family affair. Likewise the use of the ‘two brothers’ story as a vehicle for confronting issues of violence in Italian society recalls Tre fratelli, and is reprised in Mio fratello è figlio unico (My Brother is an Only Child, dir. Daniele Luchetti, 2007), which shares its scriptwriters with La meglio gioventù.6 La meglio gioventù plunges Giulia into an arguably clichéd representation of clandestine life (Cecchini, 2005: 304), during which the viewer is allowed access to her subjectivity solely in order to witness her longing for her abandoned daughter. Justly, Tardi locates La meglio gioventù as part of an iconographic tradition in which: The women who choose to engage in armed struggle are characterized, first of all, by the devastating effects that the refusal to be mothers has on them. In a later moment, the woman terrorist’s realization of the ‘mistake’ she has made leads her ... to try and reacquire those norms she had previously repudiated and, by doing so, to have the chance to start again. (Tardi, 2005: 165–6) Chiara, the protagonist of Buongiorno, notte, also fits this model. She is a member of the group that kidnaps and incarcerates Aldo Moro for 54 days before killing him: the incarceration is ironically portrayed in the film as a tense family home with Moro as the resented patriarch at its centre. Chiara is shown almost absurdly in relation to her refusal of maternity when an unsuspecting neighbour leaves her infant in Chiara’s care in the BR hideout. Moments later her comrades arrive with the captive Moro and the child lies forgotten on a sofa in the foreground of the shot. Buongiorno, notte is one of several on the Moro kidnapping – no other real event in Italy has inspired so many feature films, and many that do not deal with it directly still refer to it briefly, implicitly or even allegorically (O’Leary, 2008). As mentioned above, the first film to deal directly and at length with the kidnapping was released in 1986. Il caso Moro is a docudrama that narrates the kidnapping chronologically, as will Buongiorno, notte. Though it is an investigative film that intends to reveal the truth (as its makers saw it) of Moro’s kidnap and murder – to this end it contains speculations about conspiracy and the negative influence of the American government – Il caso Moro is fundamentally a ‘human’ tragedy, with a virtuoso central performance by the cult leftwing actor Gian-Maria Volonté as the eponymous victim. Again, this aspect of the film anticipates Buongiorno, notte, which features a moving performance by the brilliant Roberto Herlitzka as Moro. However, in the later film memory pitches into daydream as the Moro we know to have died walks free from the BR ‘people’s prison’ (the scene has become notorious) in ironic fulfilment of a national fantasy. Buongiorno, notte was made 25 years after Moro’s murder; the representation of terrorism had become by then a matter of commemoration and anniversaries. Another Moro film, Piazza delle Cinque Lune was also released on the anniversary and takes an explicitly retrospective gaze on the Moro events. In some obtrusive stunt casting, Donald Sutherland plays a judge at the end of his career who decides to find the ‘truth’ behind O’Leary 253 Moro’s death a quarter of a century earlier. The film is set, rather incongruously, in Siena (Moro died in Rome); it is a tainted heritage film, by analogy with British heritage films such as Elizabeth (dir. Shekhar Kapur, 1998) which celebrate national heroes and mythologized periods of the English past while introducing gory elements from other genres (Luckett, 2000). Piazza delle Cinque Lune paints a conspiracy theory of the Moro kidnapping against the picturesque backdrop of the famous horse race which takes place each year in the city (the Palio), exquisite Sienese interiors and great swathes of lush Tuscan landscape. The implication seems to be that Italy’s reputation for corruption and treachery, symbolized by the Moro kidnapping as the quintessential Italian mystery, is now as much of an object of tourist desire, and therefore an exportable commodity, as its beautiful scenery and cultural treasures. Such an assertion is confirmed by the domestic success and international release achieved by Romanzo criminale two years later. This film lifts the two quintessentially traumatic events of the anni di piombo, the Moro kidnap and the Bologna bombing, out of their historical context and embeds them in a violent gangster tale, apparently to express continued anxieties about the unaccountability of state and power in Italy. In the use of a conspiracy format to delineate right-wing and state culpability, the film is a revival of the treatment of terrorism in Cadaveri eccellenti and in the cop films of the 1970s (Uva, 2007: 90; Wood, forthcoming). And like the conspiracy film Piazza delle Cinque Lune, Romanzo criminale is a kind of heritage or tourist film: the ‘real’ historical events are embedded in a context of Italian art, fashion, design and glamorous characters that adduces these events as aspects of a haptically delectable and exportable past. The fact that the traumatic events of the past have become commodified in the present does not, however, mean that Italian society has finally come to terms with the legacies of the anni di piombo. Romanzo criminale, Arriverderci amore, ciao (The Goodbye Kiss, dir. Michele Soavi, 2006) and Attacco allo stato (Attack on the State, also dir. Michele Soavi, 2006) each represents different constituencies of feeling about terrorism and expresses a cultural division that we may, if we wish, speak of as a kind of ongoing symbolic civil war. Romanzo criminale speaks for those frustrated at the continuing dissimulation of the extent of state involvement in the atrocities of the anni di piombo. It marginalizes the terrorists in the (hi)story of terrorism just as Piazza delle Cinque Lune does, and for the same reasons: in order to focus on the culpability of the state. Arrivederci amore, ciao and Attacco allo stato both re-exclude the terrorist from the national family after her partial reintegration in La meglio gioventù. Arrivederci amore, ciao portrays the return at the beginning of the 1990s of a former militant to affluent northern Italy from self-imposed exile in Latin America. The film proffers a corrective to the ennobling portrayal of former terrorists in films like La mia generazione (My Generation, dir. Wilma Labate, 1996) and I riconciliati (The Reconciled, dir. Rosalia Polizza, 2001). The protagonist’s name, Pellegrini, connotes an ironic pilgrim’s progress (‘pellegrino’ is Italian for pilgrim) as he struggles to escape from his militant past and to embrace a bourgeois normality, becoming monstrous and a multiple murderer in the process. The film gives voice to a majoritarian common sense exasperated that many of the protagonists of the anni di piombo are now firmly in place as part of the establishment (even in parliament), notwithstanding past crimes. 254 Journal of European Studies 40(3) The television mini-series Attacco allo stato is a police procedural based on the reallife investigations that led to the capture of the killers of the labour-law reformers Massimo D’Antona and Marco Biagi. In contrast with the representation of the investigative team, who are shown only in the context of their work, the family lives of the BR victims, including a policeman introduced briefly before being killed in a shoot-out, are foregrounded and idealized. The saccharine portrayal of the men’s familial lives recalls the treatment of the family in La meglio gioventù and suggests that, as in the earlier miniseries, the family is intended here as both symbol and model for the state. The title of the film, which refers to an attack on the state (an allusion to a BR slogan), is contradicted by the content, which shows attacks on family men whose functionary status is carefully downplayed. In a complex ideological operation, the film represents the BR as unnatural and un-Italian in their disdain for the family, while the investigators are portrayed as an incorruptible warrior caste, working indefatigably to protect the family/families of the nation. The film is the audio-visual equivalent of the illustrated official calendar produced annually by the carabinieri, and it works through (even while it reinforces) anxieties about the persistence of terrorism. As such it too looks back to the cop films of the 1970s, and it can be usefully contextualized in relation to the anti-terrorist rhetoric of the Berlusconi government, which was concerned to be seen to respond to the contemporary global security agenda. Terrorism and tradition To what extent can we talk about a tradition of films dealing with the terrorism of the anni di piombo? That is, to what extent are individual films made in the awareness of the preceding films on the topic? Certainly, the corpus of films has its key texts. Colpire al cuore, for example, has informed several subsequent films: Vite in sospeso (Belleville, dir. Marco Turco, 1998) contains specific allusions to the earlier film, and La seconda volta re-employs its detached presentation of the protagonists as well as the austere approach to film score by the same composer, Franco Piersanti. More striking, however, is the persistence of several modes or registers which recur time and again in the films of the corpus. Prominent among these, as will be clear from the account above, is the use of the family either to trace the impress of terrorism on the texture of Italian society, or to stand for the nation itself. The representation of conflict in the family translates into particular historical interpretations when re-projected on a national scale: the father versus son story presents terrorism as a generational conflict; the brother against brother story presents terrorism as a kind of civil war. The remarkable number of female terrorists in these films, proportionally much greater than women’s actual participation in the armed struggle, suggests a reading of terrorism as a crisis of patriarchy. It may hint that terrorism itself is being employed in these films as a ‘screen memory’ in the Freudian sense: that is, the focus on terrorism recalls but masks the deeper traumatic events and processes of the anni di piombo. The long 1970s were after all the era of feminism and the contestation of traditional gender roles; this was the period in which divorce was introduced in Italy and abortion legalized. Perhaps it is not so surprising that challenges to masculinity and patriarchal power are encrypted as women’s refusal of motherhood in favour of ‘unnatural’ violence. Finally, it is notable how O’Leary 255 often the conspiracy mode and thriller motifs are employed in the corpus of films in order to express anxieties about the state, or in order to work through the presence of violence in Italian society by rendering it as spectacular entertainment. The recurrence of the poliziesco formula is often justified by film-makers as a way of reaching a wider audience. However, the immersion in the conventions of the cop film is often such that it is not simply the vehicle of an interpretation of history but the very means of that interpretation. Arguably, the poliziesco formula has been revealed to be an epistemological mode, in that its formal elements, performance styles and habits of emplotment form an instrument for processing inchoate events and circumstances. The question of whether that instrument merely configures its histories in circumscribed, clichéd ways is one, I think, that cannot be answered in the abstract but only in relation to individual films. In asking if the corpus of films considered in this article form a tradition, I was referring to a national, Italian tradition. But cinema is an international medium and no film is made in ignorance of examples from elsewhere. La prima linea, the most recent film to be dedicated to the terrorism of anni di piombo, certainly could not take the form it does without the example of the German Baader Meinhof Komplex (dir. Uli Edel, 2008). La prima linea also tells the story of the historical terrorist group named in the title, and uses some of the most charismatic and attractive faces in its national industry (Riccardo Scamarcio, Giovanna Mezzogiorno) in order to tell it. At the same time, the scholar Christian Uva has recounted that Renato de Maria, director of La prima linea, consulted him for advice when preparing his film, and Uva provided him with copies of all of the films discussed above and more.7 La prima linea seems then to suggest that the representation of terrorism in Italian cinema has come of age, and may even be in the process of becoming a genre itself. I began this article by declaring the fascination of terrorism; the films of the new century, Romanzo criminale, Attacco allo stato and La prima linea among them, exhibit and confirm this fascination. Moreover, they confirm, as no doubt will certain Italian films released next year and the year after that, the role of terrorism as an essential and enthralling feature of the chiaroscuro national epic. Notes 1 The title of Von Trotta’s film is derived from a poem, ‘Der Gang aufs Land’ (vv. 5–6), by Friedrich Hölderlin: ‘Trüb ists heut, es schlummen die Gäng und die Gassen und fast will / Mir es scheinen, es sei, als in der bleiernen Zeit’ (Today the weather is torpid, the streets and paths are sleeping / and it almost seems to me to be like in the leaden age). For a concise account of the strategy of tension and the part played in it by elements within the state and by international influences, see Bull and Newell (2005: 101–4). The topic is treated at greater length in Ferraresi (1996) and in Cento Bull (2007). The reader should note that alternative explanations of the Bologna bombing have been suggested and have been taken increasingly seriously by judicial investigators and academics alike (Cento Bull, 2007: 21–2, 26–7). The scholarship on the representation of terrorism in Italian cinema is now substantial. For introductory accounts that complement the present article, see O’Leary (2005), the introduction to Uva (2007), and Lombardi (2009).
For more in-depth analysis, see O’Leary (2007), and the case studies by various authors in Uva (2007) and in the forthcoming volume edited by Glynn, Lombardi and O’Leary. 2 3 256 4 Journal of European Studies 40(3) The most relevant films include La polizia ringrazia, La polizia sta a guardare (The Great Kidnapping, dir. Roberto Infascelli, 1973), La polizia accusa: il servizio segreto uccide (Chopper Squad, dir. Sergio Martino, 1975), and Poliziotti violenti (Crimebusters, dir. Michele Massimo Tarantini, 1976). The existence of a generational block was given as a motivation for taking up the armed struggle by founding member of the BR, Renato Curcio (Curcio and Scialoja, 1993: 212). Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia. Conversation with the author. 5 6 7 References Brunetta GP (2007) Il cinema italiano contemporaneo: da ‘La dolce vita’ a ‘Centochiodi’. Rome: Laterza. Bruni F (1995) La seconda volta: Incontro-dibattito con uno degli autori, Script 10: 43–50. 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Dalle Vacche A (1992) The Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Di Caprio L (1984) Baader-Meinhof fictionalized. Jump Cut 29: 56–9. Fasanella G, Pellegrino G, Sestieri C (2008) Segreto di Stato: verità e riconciliazione sugli anni di piombo. Milan: Sperling e Kupfer. Ferraresi F (1996) Threats to Democracy: The Radical Right in Italy after the War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Ginsborg P (2001) Italy and its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State 1980–2001. London: Allen Lane. Glynn R (forthcoming) Terrorism, a female malady? In: R Glynn, G Lombardi and A O’Leary (eds) Terrorism Italian Style: The Representation of Terrorism and Political Violence in Contemporary Italian Cinema. London: IGRS Books. Glynn R, Lombardi G., O’Leary A (eds) (forthcoming) Terrorism Italian Style: The Representation of Terrorism and Political Violence in Contemporary Italian Cinema. London: IGRS Books. Lanaro S (1992) Storia dell’Italia repubblicana: dalla fine della guerra agli anni novanta. Venice: Marsilio. Lenci S (1988) Colpo alla nuca. Rome: Editori Riuniti. O’Leary 257 Lombardi G (2000) Unforgiven: revisiting political terrorism in La seconda volta, Italica 77(2): 199–213. Lombardi G (2009) Screening terror: political terrorism in Italian cinema. In: P Antonello and A O’Leary (eds) Imagining Terrorism: The Rhetoric and Representation of Political Violence in Italy 1969–2009. London: Legenda. Luckett M (2000) Image and nation in 1990s British cinema. In: R Murphy (ed.) British Cinema of the 90s. London: British Film Institute, 88–99. Natalini F (2005) Diavolo in corpo. In: A Aprà (ed.) Marco Bellocchio: il cinema e i film. Venice: Marsilio, 185–9. O’Leary A (2005) Film and the ‘anni di piombo’: representations of politically motivated violence in recent Italian cinema. In: G Bonsaver and RSC Gordon (eds) Culture, Censorship and the State in Twentieth-Century Italy. Oxford: Legenda, 168–78. O’Leary A (2007) Tragedia all’italiana: cinema e terrorismo tra Moro e memoria. Tissi: Angelica. O’Leary A (2008) Dead man walking: the Aldo Moro kidnap and palimpsest history in Buongiorno, notte. New Cinemas 6(1): 33–45. Pergolari A (2007) La fisionomia del terrorismo nero nel cinema poliziesco italiano degli anni ’70. In: C Uva (ed.) Schermi di piombo: il terrorismo nel cinema italiano. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 159–72. Saulini M (1987) Il titolo del film diventa modulo locutivo comune. Cultura e scuola 26(102): 74–82. Sorlin P (1996) Italian National Cinema. London: Routledge. Tardi R (2005) Representations of Italian left political violence in film, literature and theatre (1973–2005). Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University College London. Uva C (ed.) (2007) Schermi di piombo: Il terrorismo nel cinema italiano. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino. Wood MP (2003) Revealing the hidden city: the cinematic conspiracy thriller of the 1970s. The Italianist 23: 150–62. Wood MP (2005) Italian Cinema. Oxford: Berg. Wood MP (forthcoming) Navigating the labyrinth: cinematic investigations of right-wing terrorism. In: R Glynn, G Lombardi and A O’Leary (eds) Terrorism Italian Style: The Representation of Terrorism and Political Violence in Contemporary Italian Cinema. London: IGRS Books. Author Biography Alan O’Leary is Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Tragedia all’italiana: cinema e terrorismo tra Moro e memoria (2007); and editor (with Pierpaolo Antonello) of Imagining Terrorism: The Rhetoric and Representation of Political Violence in Italy, 1969–2009 and (with Millicent Marcus) of the annual film issue of the journal The Italianist. In 2008 he also co-edited the special edition of Italian Studies, ‘Thinking Italian Film’, with Catherine O’Rawe.
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung