Good Morning, Night Movie Review

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Italian political history gets revisited in Good Morning, Night (aka Buongiorno, notte), the latest work from pedantic ideologue Marco Bellocchio. If you're already moving on to the next review at filmcritic.com ("God, not another history lesson! Let's see what they wrote about Mystic River or Kill Bill instead..."), I can't blame you. Bellocchio doesn't really make movies so much as build tracts, and his philosophy student background at the Catholic University of Milan is the driving force behind his films. They're philosophic inasmuch as they have characters sitting around discussing big ideas, which is the kiss of death for many films.

Inherently dramatic, Good Morning, Night has a strong premise addressing issues of responsibility and the dynamics of power. The Red Brigade terrorist group kidnaps Italian President Aldo Moro (Roberto Herlitzka) and holds him in their cell -- a small house in a suburban neighborhood. The youngest member of the group, and the only female, is Anna (Maya Sansa), who takes on the role of housewife for her three revolutionary companions and has a soul-stifling job at the local library. As days pass and the terrorists negotiate with the authorities, Anna questions her role in the political machinations. Though she never really grows more self-aware, she feels a sense of guilt over the possibility of killing Moro.

Sounds potentially fascinating, but Bellocchio doesn't tap into the humanity of his subjects. He's more interested in the ideas. As the terrorists interrogate their prisoner, it becomes more point-and-counterpoint than dramatic situation. Consequently, Good Morning, Night feels like a history lesson. The release is found not in the actors, but in the frequent cutaways to campy TV specials of the 1970s, forever playing in the background. Bellocchio never explores this banal counterpoint to the political turmoil, though one could argue it's a nice case of showing rather than telling. It's perhaps the movie's only example of showing rather than telling, telling, telling, telling...

Out of nowhere, one of Anna's co-workers tosses out the idea of writing a screenplay about the president's situation (and she wonders how much this young friend knows about her double life). This self-commentary on the art form never really builds in any satisfactory way, and feels instead flatfooted and indulgent. Maya Sansa's performance manages to convey enormous depth, particularly in her fleeting smiles of relief during a few key moments, but it's not enough to put a heart in this Tin Man movie. Odd, considering the story is about how much one is willing to risk everything in the name of a cause, which is about appealing to one's heart and mind. Good Morning, Night is well made, well thought-through, but appeals to neither one nor the other.

Reviewed as part of the 2003 New York Film Festival.

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Good Morning, Night Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2003

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