Even as a mute captive, kidnapped Prime Minister Aldo Moro, touchingly played by Roberto Herlitzka, easily emerges as the most sympathetic character in Good Morning, Night. His sad eyes and regal bearing convey a fundamental decency and gentleness, and once he actually starts talking, he travels the knife's edge between mere devout, righteous Christian and living saint, a flesh-and-blood martyr. But to the zealots who've kidnapped him, Herlitzka isn't a person so much as the personification of the decadent ruling class.
Adapted from a novel by Anna Laura Braghetti and Paolo Tavella, the film examines Moro's kidnapping by the Red Brigade radical sect. Set largely in a small apartment that becomes a makeshift jail for captive and captors alike, Moro's ordeal—which he endures with dignity, grace, and an almost beatific calm—is seen largely through the eyes of pretty young radical Maya Sansa. Throughout the film, Sansa spouts the proper revolutionary line, sometimes joylessly and unconvincingly, but her big, wildly expressive eyes betray a growing sympathy for and identification with Herlitzka.
Films about political zealots face a fair number of built-in hazards. How do you dramatize people who view humanity in terms of ideological abstractions related to vast, impersonal class struggles without reducing those characters to abstractions themselves? How do you address the issues and concerns of ideologues prone to reducing a complicated world to strident, didactic rhetoric without in turn becoming strident and didactic? Director and co-writer Marco Bellocchio answers those questions by telling the story in largely visual terms, through Sansa and Herlitzka's perspective as much as the film's dialogue. Yet the film probably would have been more poignant and resonant had Bellocchio found a way to further humanize Sansa's Red Brigade comrades, who often come across as little more than the sum of their rigid, unyielding political convictions. Nevertheless, Bellocchio's film, which enlivens the grim realities of months in a stuffy apartment with striking bursts of lyricism, is often a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of becoming a slave to ideology.