Saturday 16 September 2017

Italian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison is impressed by Annnarita Zambrano's AFTER THE WAR (Italy, 2017)

The political thriller is one of the best traditions in European film making - Cayatte’s Nous sommes tous des Assassins (France, 1952) Autant-Lara’s Tu ne tueras point (France, 1961), Costa Gavras’ Z (France, 1969), Bellocchio’s Buongiorno, note (Italy, 2003)  Vicari’s Diaz, Don’t Clean Up This Blood (Italy, 2012) and a whole swathe of the work of Gian-Maria Volonte.

For Annarita Zambrano to move into this company with her first feature Dopo la guerra/After the War (Italy, 2017) with a first time writer and featuring young Charlotte Cétaire in her first role is a big ask and it’s impressive to see how far they get.

The opening is riveting, with a university professor leaving an angry 2002 student meeting, only to be gunned down. The assassin claims to be from The New Armed Faction for the Revolution, a long dormant Italian movement from the “Years of Lead” eighties political turmoil.

This impacts on Giuseppe Battison, one of the movement’s former leaders now sheltering in France under a Mitterand era amnesty. One of his fellow exiles has already been repatriated to face jail in his native Italy and Battison goes on the run, hiding out in a dilapidated Contis des Bains farm with his daughter Cétaire who was about to compete in her school sports contest and sit for her bac.

She sees her life destroyed, particularly when the striking Marilyne Canto arrives to do an interview, which will counter act a damning cover story in L’Express.  The journalist lets slip dad's plan to shift to Nicaragua.

This makes a revealing comparison with Sidney Lumet’s dominant pre-occupation, the grown children of the second half Twentieth Century left. Think Daniel, Running on Empty or Garbo Talks.

Parallel with Battison’s flight, his sister, the still great looking Barbora Bobulova (impressive in Paolo Franchi’s La Spettatrice/The Spectator and Ferzan Ozpetek’s Cuore sacro/Sacred Heart) finds their association with a terrorist brother she hasn’t seen for twenty years jeopardises her position as a lecturer on the work of Dante, her husband’s election as chief magistrate and the safety of her mother Elisabetta Piccolomini through whose window a brick with the word “assassin” has been heaved. Bobulova discovers that her mother has been in secret contact, cherishing hidden photos of Cétaire.

Giuseppe Battison, Dopo la guerra/After the War
The weight of the film falls on Battison whose character is given exceptional depth. He killed the judge who had condemned his associates in front of the man’s eight year old child only after he had seen his own brother shot down “sous mes yeux” by police after he had surrendered his weapon. He sees the only outcome of his situation being the amnesty of his movement after their war - something the Italian government will never give. Battison has the telling story about meeting his former school mate while on the run and the man admiring his veins, having become a junkie, a casualty of a regime which would rather see his generation destroyed by dope than given responsibility.

Battison speaking French, (this is a French movie despite its Italian star, subject and place in an Italian Film Festival) is stretched to his limits. The amiable fat man comic of his earlier films did manage an effective serious part, dominating Paolo Genovese’s recent Perfetti sconosciuti/Perfect Strangers but this role would have challenged Volonte at his peak. The ending we are given fails to exploit the possibilities the film has established.

Zambrano’s handling is more at ease with film form, spacing the dialogue with effective locating footage - Bobulova in the street with graffiti like that of the opening, the glimpsed night time fair, Cétaire caressing the kittens in the barn or cycling through the striped shadows the line of trees throw on the road.

With its possibly inevitable shortcomings Doppo la guerra is still an imposing piece of work. It should be seen.

First time director, Annarita Zambrano

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