One of the last instances of New Left terror occurred in 1978 when Red Brigade extremists abducted Italian politician Aldo Moro. A five-time prime minister expected to become his country’s next president, Moro was held captive for two months, tried by a “people’s court,” and executed. Marco Bellocchio’s Good Morning, Night imagines the period of his captivity as a rarefied spiritual struggle.
Good Morning, Night, shown here at the 2003 New York Film Festival, begins with a young couple renting a flat; it becomes apparent, over the course of their enigmatic preparations, that they’re not married and are preparing the apartment for something other than family life. One morning, Chiara (Maya Sansa) hears helicopters overhead; she flips on the TV and levitates with excitement to learn Moro has been kidnapped. Bellocchio doesn’t stage the abduction (although he makes sure it’s noted that five people were killed). In a scene typical of the movie’s understated magic realism, he has a frantic neighbor hand her baby to Chiara at precisely the wrong moment—the cooing infant precariously parked on the living-room couch as Chiara’s three male comrades rush in and maneuver a crate containing Moro into the safe room.
A childlike creature who wears outsize sweaters and is captivated more by fireworks than ideology, Chiara provides the front of respectability for her cell. The others are shown as mad cult members who mutter the mantra “The working class must rule,” when not donning ski masks to interrogate their prisoner or demand he write another letter to the pope. (They are amazed their actions do not precipitate a fascist coup, to be followed by Communist revolution. In fact, Moro’s kidnapping only helped legitimize the Christian Democratic government, which, in effect, sacrificed its leader by refusing to negotiate with brigadisti.)
Because Chiara is the only cell member with an outside existence—that is, a job—she functions as a messenger between the worlds. She barely speaks to Moro, but events are filtered through her consciousness. As the captive—played with poignant fatherly dignity by Roberto Herlitzka—comes to figure in Chiara’s dreams, so she becomes a character in the scenario that an innocent workplace colleague is writing about the kidnapping. (Its title is Good Morning, Night.) He’s appointed himself Chiara’s good angel—accompanying her to a family wedding replete with lengthy Communist hymns—until he’s arrested, most likely for spray-painting a Red Brigade graffito in the workplace elevator.
Bellocchio presupposes a certain familiarity with the case, but he’s clear enough in suggesting Moro was a martyr to establishment cowardice. Irrationality is everywhere. Moro’s family holds a séance; priests arrive at Chiara’s door to bless the apartment. The hitherto reasonable captive pleads for an impossible “life sentence,” and even his killers cross themselves before the deed—which Bellocchio again declines to show.
Like its oxymoronic title, Good Morning, Night is sober yet filled with fancy. There’s a wistful aspect to the movie. Chiara’s last dream is a near jaw-dropper—as though Bellocchio has imagined this cruel story through the wrong end of a telescope and staged it in a snow globe.