19 October, 2009
By Lee Marshall
The Front Line (La Primea Linea)
Dir: Renato De Maria. Italy/Belgium. 2009. 100 mins.
It wasn't until the country's mood turned against ideology of all
hues that Italy's home-grown terrorists of the 1970s became good
cinematic subjects. But although well-crafted, well-acted and
fitfully involving, Renato De Maria's The Front Line is too immersed
in the pathos of this lost generation to fully work as a drama.
His film doesn't glamorise terrorism like, perhaps, The Baader
Meinhof Complex; neither does it have the fine dramatic edge of
Goodmorning Night, Marco Bellocchio's take on the Red Brigades'
kidnapping of Aldo Moro. All of The Front Line is pitched in
third-act confessional mode; and this has the effect of taking away
from the immediacy of its story, which centres on a love affair
between two terrorists from the Prima Linea group, active between
1976 and 1981.
Opening in Italy on 20 November on around 150 screens, this decent
film should post reasonable takings at home thanks partly to the
local pulling power of leads Riccardo Scamarcio and Giovanna
Mezzogiorno, and partly to the subject's appeal to older Italians who
lived through the anni di piombo ('years of lead'). Internationally,
though, it will struggle to persuade audiences that another tale of
misguided young gun-toting ideologues in the 1970s is worth investing in.
The film begins with simulated prison interview footage in which the
protagonist young radical hothead turned political assassin Sergio
Segio (Scamarcio) explains the birth of armed left-wing movements
like Prima Linea and the Red Brigades, and addresses a mea culpa
direct to camera: "we'd mistaken dusk for dawn; we thought we were
the new partisans".
Then it's straight into preparations for the jailbreak attempt that
gives the film its dramatic structure. In January 1982, Sergio and a
group of co-militants travelled from Venice to Rovigo in an attempt
to spring four female terrorists out of jail including Susanna
Ronconi (Mezzogiorno), who pays the Bonnie to Sergio's Clyde.
We see the preparations, the journey and the jailbreak itself in
sometimes excessive detail though once the convoy gets on the road,
the tension picks up and there are even glimpses of a certain
'Italian Job' quality that helps to leaven the overridingly intense
tone. However, the jailbreak timeline is abandoned for long stretches
as the script fills us in on Sergio's gradual passage from picketing
and leafletting in his hometown of Milan to taking up arms, going
underground, meeting and romancing Susanna and eventually committing
his first murder something that leaves him racked with guilt.
It's a tricksy structure, and while the transitions are managed
fairly elegantly, the story's Chinese boxes tend to distance an
audience already struggling to assign sympathy to a group of
politically confused militants who were not even particularly loved
by the workers they were supposedly standing up for. Intimate
camerawork and Max Richter's melancholy, Moby-like score make the
case that this is a tragedy of misguided ideals, and at times
thanks also to Scamarcio and Mezzogiorno it does play that way.
But in the end it's impossible for the film to avoid falling prey to
the same fatalistic sense of 'what were we so angry about?' that
slowly swamps its would-be revolutionary subjects. It's like
watching a civil war through the wrong end of a telescope.
Les Films du Fleuve
The Works International
+ 44 (0)20 7612 0090
Based on the book Sergio Segio by Miccia Corta
Gian Filippo Corticelli