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Review: The Front Line

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Emotion and subversion


- Terrorism as we’ve never seen it before on the big screen. A film co-produced by the Dardenne brothers, who were fascinated by the screenplay that revives the great tradition of Italian cinema

Review: The Front Line

Preceded by controversies over the fact that the state was to fund a film about terrorism, Renato De Maria’s The Front Line [+see also:
film focus
interview: Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne
interview: Renato De Maria
film profile
hits domestic screens on November 20. During development, however, producer Andrea Occhipinti at the last moment refused the funding (of €1.5m of a €4.5m budget) "to avoid any possible exploitation".

The Front Line is loosely based on Short Fuse, the memoirs of Sergio Segio, the former "Commander Sirio" of the armed communist organization Prima Linea (“Front Line”), who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of judge Emilio Alessandrini in 1979. Among the many dramatic stories of the Lead Years, the director chose this one in particular, for it obviously powerful cinematic appeal.

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On January 3, 1982, Segio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and his friends attacked the women’s prison of Rovigo to free terrorist Susanna Ronconi (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). The cold but enduring love story between the two communist “revolutionaries” rounds out this story: love and death traverse the entire film, without romanticism but, rather, with a cold realism reminiscent of the rigour of the German films on terrorism by Margarethe von Trotta, Reinhard Hauff and Fassbinder.

Hence, if audiences come searching for certain indulgences or sympathy – that go beyond the obvious love most filmmakers have for their characters – they will be hard pressed to find it here. There is no Bonnie and Clyde. Any character fascination and identification lie in the humanity, revealed at times, of these two young "monsters" who took the wrong path of the armed fight.

The choice is clear: the film begins with Sergio in prison recalling the actions of his revolutionary fight, describing the trajectory that rapidly and endemically distanced many young people from the country’s politics and even reality itself. "I feel the weight of every killing", says Sergio with a fixed gaze. "There is a legal, political and moral responsibility. I accept all three".

From the very beginning, the mask of death has already fallen upon the face of young Sergio. There are already signs of remorse. After a few years, he decides to leave the terrorist group although his hard as nails companion Susanna gives no signs of letting up. Screenwriters Sandro Petraglia, Ivan Cotroneo and Fidel Signorile also felt the need to create a fictional character, Piero, who represents the young people who followed their dream without taking up arms. "No one is following you anymore, you are the front line of an inexistent procession", he tells his friend Sergio.

De Maria in The Front Line captures the slow agony that follows coming to terms with failure. With stylistic simplicity, he depicts the creatures that live isolated behind the walls of clandestine apartments, victims of an emotional short circuit that confuses the function with the person. A mechanism that allowed them to murder in cold blood a husband and father who worked as a judge. A mechanism that still today allows fundamentalism throughout the world to ignore the man and kill.

(Translated from Italian)


international title: The Front Line
original title: La prima linea
country: Italy, Belgium, France, United Kingdom
sales agent: The Works International
year: 2009
directed by: Renato De Maria
screenplay: Fidel Signorile, Ivan Cotroneo, Sandro Petraglia
cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Fabrizio Rongione

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