How do people become fanatics? When does individual conscience take a stand? The question has inspired such recent Hollywood films as Syriana and Munich, with unsatisfying results. Europeans, for whom such behavior is not such a novelty, have had better luck confronting the issue, at least on the screen. Two such films hit town this week.
Marco Bellocchio has come a long way in revolutionary politics since 1986’s Il diavolo in corpo/Devil in the Flesh, where a character relates the tale of Lenin’s triumphant return to St. Petersburg while receiving a blow job. No such below-the-belt diversions in Buongiorno, notte|Good Morning, Night, his 2003 meditation on the 1978 Red Brigades kidnapping and murder of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro (Roberto Herlitzka). Its tone, as someone describes the politician’s face in a photo released by his captors, is “sad and resigned.”
More dream than documentary account, Notte makes no claims to be factual. The dreams come from Chiara (Maya Sansa), a young Brigade member whose loyalty to the cause weakens as she spends time with the frail and fatherly Moro in a suburban apartment. Her fellow fanatics feebly argue the cause with the old man, but Chiara notes that his plight is more akin to that of the resistance fighters condemned to death by the Nazis whom her late partisan father told her about.
“Good morning, night” is an Emily Dickinson poem, and a non-Brigade character makes it the title of a screenplay he’s written about the kidnapping. He contends that the imagination is more powerful than history, ideology, even death. Chiara doesn’t think so, but Bellocchio, with his moody ambiguity, some imagery as flinty as Dickinson’s own, and his absurdly triumphant ending, seems to agree.
Fathers, good and bad, figure prominently in Dennis Gansel’s more Hollywoodish Napola. When Friedrich (Max Riemelt) proposes to accept an offer to enter a Napola — an elite Nazi military school — because of his boxing skills, his factory-worker dad forbids him. He goes anyway, and his father gets a visit from the Gestapo. The school seems a kid’s dream until the vaguely homoerotic hazing starts and Friedrich buddies up with Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the Werther-like son of brutal district governor Heinrich Stein (Justus von Dohnányi). When Stein sends Albrecht and Friedrich to hunt for escaped Russian POWs and the evil nature of the regime is revealed, Albrecht takes a stand. Should Friedrich support his friend and take a dive in the big boxing match? But with its pat resolutions and moral red herrings, the film has already hit the canvas.