Veteran Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio returned to Cannes this year with “Exterior Night,” a limited TV series about the 1978 kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by Red Brigades terrorists that, prior to playing on pubcaster RAI, is now on release in two installments via Lucky Red in Italian cinemas where it’s doing quite well.
Bellocchio, who previously recounted Moro’s still-mysterious abduction in the 2005 film “Goodmorning, Night” from the viewpoint of one of his captors, is taking a different narrative approach in this series consisting of six one-hour episodes that reconstruct the 55 days of Moro’s imprisonment from different points of view, including that of his family, his fellow high-echelon Christian Democrat politicians, and the ailing Pope Paul VI, played by Toni Servillo.
He spoke to Variety about what drove him to revisit Italy’s deepest recent collective trauma and why he thinks the crucial issue of whether the Italian government should have negotiated with the Red Brigades to try and save Moro remains an open question. Excerpts.
What drove you to revisit the Aldo Moro tragedy for your first TV series?
In my work I’ve always finished something and then gone on to something else. But in this case, I got these sort of warning signals connected to the 40th anniversary of Moro’s death (in 2018) because the spotlight returned to this topic, the massacre and his killing, in a massive way. [It ended tragically with Moro’s bullet-riddled body found in the trunk of a parked car in downtown Rome. Italy reeled from the killing.]
There was a lot of trying to delve into it and finally understand the truth. And this made me want to not so much discover the historic truth; but tell the story of several characters that I had totally ignored in my film.
That’s why I took my cue from the massacre and the kidnapped prime minister who disappears, to then talk about certain characters that I was attracted to: Italy’s president at the time, Francesco Cossiga; the Pope; Moro’s wife; and the terrorist couple Valerio Morucci and Adriana Faranda.
This type of narrative of course needed the time arc of a TV series which of course is a big novelty for me.
How did you wade through all the material on this still partly mysterious tragedy?
We used the known historical facts as our point of departure, but since there is such a massive amount of material, you have to be able to pick and chose. This takes both luck and talent. So at the same time this series is also a work of fiction thorough a series of imaginary things that take their cue from reality. I’ve always tried not to delve into an exasperated reconstruction of events or conspiracy theories. If you read the historians, they all have a different read on what happened. I was mainly interested in looking at the characters and their thought process, but without getting too cerebral about it.
After watching it, I asked myself what is still a burning question: would a negotiation between the Italian government and the Red Brigades have been possible? What’s your take?
Even though I didn’t get too caught up in the backstory, this is certainly a dilemma that I’ve put on screen. You have the Pope who is willing to find money to pay Moro’s ransom, which is something that actually happened. And you have the politicians — whom I’m not going to judge — who said: ‘we can’t negotiate.’ ‘Why should we give recognition to a group that doesn’t recognize us: there is no reciprocity here?’ The Red Brigades were demanding that 14 political prisoners be released from Italian jails. They were making an unreasonable demand.
Having said that, there is truth in the fact that Aldo Moro’s death precipitated a crisis that led to the crumbling of Italy’s main political parties at the time: the Communists and the Cristian Democrats. In hind site if politicians at the time had been willing to negotiate and Moro had been freed maybe things would have gone differently, even though contending with Moro alive, with all of his pent up rage, would have been pretty explosive.