Professor Alberto Sajevo, a lecturer in business and economics at Turin University and ex-senior manager at Fiat, has lived under a pseudonym and reconstructed identity for the best part of twelve years following a terrorist attack upon his life. Single and close to his sister, there is also a suggestion that he has had problematic homosexual relationships. Since the attack he has lived with a bullet embedded within his skull which is liable to give him serious migraines and potentially worse.
One day at lunch, he sees by chance a woman whom he recognizes as one of his attackers - Lisa Venturi. However, Venturi does not reciprocate the recognition and introduces herself as Adele. Sajevo resolves to follow Venturi, bemused and angry as to why she is apparently now walking free. During the day Venturi works as an administrative assistant in a city centre office but at night she must return to the prison on the city’s outskirts from where she is on day release as part of her ongoing process of social reintegration. After Sajevo has confronted Venturi with his real identity, a psychological game of cat and mouse ensues, with Venturi refusing to engage any further with Sajevo, and with him demanding an answer and some sort of closure for his trauma.
Dealing with the thorny issue of Italy’s recent history of political terrorism is a problem which refuses to subside for Italy’s governments. In the mid to late 1990s, when this film was produced, the Italian judiciary were in the process of formulating laws granting an ‘indulto’ to terrorists convicted of ‘lesser’ crimes committed up until 1989, and who had been duly imprisoned as a result. An ‘indulto’ was a particular form of official pardon (by no means complete) which sought to reduce the remaining terms of the sentence.
However, the recriminations of passing any such law provoked a stormy debate, led for the larger part by the families and victims of terrorist activities dating from the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1997, President Scalfari issued a surprising pardon to six incarcerated terrorists (who had not been convicted of murder), lighting another fire underneath the fierce debate.
Mimmo Calopresti’s film does not so much grasp this thorn, as examine and query it from a calm, detached perspective. He presents it simply and through deliberately non-pyrotechnical, humanist means.
Sajevo’s bullet-embedded brain serves as the perfect metaphor for the parameters that the wider Italian society finds itself operating within. The terrorists, past and present, were contributing members of Italian society, just as their victims were. Their violent actions and their consequences live on in many, now middle-aged Italians, and continue to infect their memories with the trauma of conflicting emotions. Sajevo’s migraines and the persistent threat to his own mortality encompass the fragile nature of this social malaise. William Faulkner looms large here, perhaps: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’
Calopresti creates an ambiance of stasis. Nanni Moretti as Sajevo, surrounded by blue, is first framed rowing inside on a machine, taking him precisely nowhere. Notably, he lacks the conviction to step back into the real thing and course down the Po. Turin is wintry and discontented. Soft rains force heads down and collars up, encouraging insular living and pared-down communication. Savejo’s office is found in the grey and grubby Palazzo Nuovo of Turin University, the Mole Antonelliana next door visible only through dank mists and charcoal skies.
Sajevo himself is anglicized (he chooses roast beef, drinks tea often and from a pot) in the way that Mediterraneans sometimes view the English – as emotionally cold and (sexually) repressed. Sajevo, like the city of Turin, is obviously automated by the mechanical rhythms of manufacture, of the Fiat factory (of which a long take is featured as a means to introduce the tempo of the film). The city’s public transport network and commuter spaces – mensa-type bars and cafes, park benches, offices, operating as they do in Turin, on a tightly-knit extended grid, offer the means for Sajevo and Venturi to conduct their mechanized daily business.
Calporesti takes considerable time to subtly build empathetic portraits of two of the sides of this argument - how to come to terms with the legacy of terrorism, and to his great credit, provides no simple solution. Sajevo’s character has his bullet in the head, Venturi has her institutionalization and her refracted memory. She also unwittingly carries a signifier of her past every day in the form of a scarlet coat.
There are, for Calopresti, no easy forms of compromise or resolution. Indeed, reconciliation may well be even impossible. This is captured in the final images of Sajevo, as he begins to write Venturi a letter saying that their meetings have helped him in some way. But as his train to Germany rattles past open, vague landscapes, he throws his letter from the train and into oblivion.