CANNES FESTIVAL: Marco Bellocchio’s ESTERNO NOTTE revisits the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Aldo Moro

CANNES, France — Marco Bellocchio’s “Esterno Notte” (“Exterior Night”) is an essential and dramatic film that soberly tells the truth of an important period of Italy’s history, a pivotal moment, the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, former President of Italy.

“Esterno Notte” is a made-for-TV miniseries, six episodes that were combined and screened on Wednesday in Cannes in the Cannes premiere program in two tranches. The series will go on to be shown in Italian theaters and will end up on the Rai network after that.

It’s 1978 and the Italian press is daily relating incidents taking place between far-left factions, such as the Red Brigade and the state, demonstrations, bank robberies and kidnappings.

A coalition government is being organized, for the first time in a Western European country, by Aldo Moro, the sitting president at the time, a proponent of initiating the paradigm shift that would loosen the political-social stalemate in place by partnering with the Communist party, under the watchful eye of the U.S.

On the same day that this new government, led by Giulio Andreotti, should have been formed, on March 16th on Via Fani, central Rome, Moro is kidnapped in an ambush during which his entire security detail, but for one man, is taken out.

A nearly identical incident, taking place within a context of similarly fervid demonstrations, had taken place in Germany less than a year earlier with the kidnapping of the Christian Democrat politician Hanns-Martin Schleyer. He was kidnapped on September 5th, 1977 in Cologne by an armed group of the RAF (the Rote Armee Fraktion, better-known as the Baader-Meinhof Group), four of his guards were killed and Schleyer’s body was later found in the trunk of a car in Mulhouse, France after 43 days of captivity.

Caught between hope and fear, Aldo Moro (played by Fabrizio Gifuni), was held hostage for 55 days, during which he wrote to family, friends and pleaded with Pope Paul VI (Toni Servillo) for his release. Moro’s bullet-riddled body was found in the trunk of a car.

Bellocchio, 82, has his place in the pantheon of Italian filmmakers, alongside De Sicca, Pasolini (with whom he was friends), Scola and Nanni Moretti. Fellini is in a league of his own, so I’m not including him here. Bellocchio has about thirty screenplays and every two or three years since 1965’s “Fists in the pocket” a new film he’s directed comes out.

“Exterior Night” is the counterpart to “Good Morning, Night” (2003), which is also about the kidnapping of Moro but as seen through the eyes of one of his assailants.

Toni Servillo, who plays the Pope, and Margherita Buy, whom I saw in a recent Moretti movie (“Mia Madre”) are inhabited by the seriousness of the situation.

If you were born at least in the early seventies in Europe you knew about the Red Brigades, just like you were aware of Action Directe, in France. I knew of the name Aldo Moro and his sad predicament, but I did not remember his demeanor. Yet, and it’s only an intuition, Gifuni gets Moro right, this is likely what Aldo Moro was like in real life, a consensus-minded politician, a Gandhi-like figure who was a servant to country first and party second.

As it were, this soberly-told six-part film is the product of serendipity. Bellocchio opened La Repubblica one day and saw a large photograph of Moro surrounded by his family at Maccarese beach in Rome. Children and women around him wear bathing suits but he’s in a suit and tie, he wears a smile. This image, Bellocchio would later explain, made him want to tell the story again but from a different point of view than the one he’d used in “Good morning, night.”

The festival is still young but this film marked me the most. Definitely a recommend!

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