La prima Linea (The Front Line) (2009)
Director: Renato De Maria.
Starring: Riccardo Scamarcio (Sergio Segio), Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Susanna Ronconi), Daniela Tusa (Ward), Awa Ly (Jazz singer), Fabrizio Rongione (Piero), Michele Alhaique (Rosario), Jacopo Maria Bicocchi (Marco Donat-Cattin), Angelo Campolo (Policeman), Lino Guanciale (Piero), Marco IermanÚ (Willy).
story of Italian extreme left-wing terrorist group with leaders of the nature of a Marxist Bonnie and Clyde
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A group of protestors start their demonstration.
Milan, January 15, 1983. Sergio Segio sits on his bed. A telephone rings and he answers it. A voice of a woman says that she will see him at the railway yard in an hour. He opens a drawer in an end table and takes out a pistol. He sits on the bed thinking and then puts the pistol back in the drawer. Sergio shows up at the railway yard and he is grabbed by the police and whisked off to jail.
Turin, "Le Nuove" Prison, November 1989. Sergio says he was born in the factory town of Sesto San Giovanni (near Milan) in 1955. The town's nickname was the Italian Stalingrad. His career of radicalism began in 1968 when he was less than 15 years of age. He joined in a demonstration by the workers of the town.
Flashback. Milan, December 12, 1969. A bomb in a Milan bank kills 16 and injures 88. Right-wingers, armed by the state, set off the bomb. Sergio comments that he thought there was going to be a coup in Italy where the state would massacre them.
Milan, May 17, 1973. There are lots of hurt and dead people on the sidewalk. Sergio comments that the state had already started to massacre them with the Piazza della Loggia massacre.
Italicus Train, August 4, 1974. A fascist bomb blows up on a train.
Brescia, May 28, 1974. Another bomb goes off during another demonstration.
They told them to react, to fight back, at the end of the 1970's. Sergio was up in front of the demonstration because he was one of the stewards. The police used tear gas and guns and the demonstrators used rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Sergio co-founded the armed Prima Linea group. He saw it as a popular army for the future. Today, the Berlin Wall fell and communism started to disappear. They had thought they were the vanguard of something new and exciting, but actually were a rearguard of something old and failing. When he was very young they thought they were right, but actually they were wrong. ". . . but back then we didn't know it."
A policeman comes in and Sergio says he is a revolutionary political prisoner. The policeman says what he is, is a murderer. He tells Sergio: "You're not worth shit anymore." At that time there a big trial of the radicals going on in Florence. Even his Susanna was there.
Prison Break. Sergio left Prima Linea in 1980. Susanna was arrested soon after that. Sergio immediately began plotting an escape for Susanna.
Sunday, January 3, 1982. Venice, 7 a.m. It's the day to bust Susanna out of jail. Sergio awakens Diego and Massimo and another comrade. The gang has left Prima Linea, but now they would like to know what are they? Sergio says they're just a group of comrades getting another comrade out of jail.
Rovigo Prison, 7:30 a.m. The jailor goes around opening the closed doors to the cells. Susanna talks with her comrades.
Sergio and the fellows are getting ready. They put on their chest armor and check their pistols. As narrator Sergio comments that he studied the plan for an entire year and he knew almost everything about the routines at the prison and at the local stores and about the people. They have grenades and sub-machine guns.
The women wait in line to use the facilities. In line a non-militant woman named Rita Alba tells Susana that she wants to go with them when they escape. Susana says that Rita only has a sentence of five years. If she tries to escape and gets caught, she could get life in prison. She should stay in prison. Then Susana tells Rita to tell the other women not to go outside today. She doesn't want any blame to be put on the non-militants.
Flashback. Sergio sets a strike-breaker's car on fire to teach him a lesson. He shows Diego the pistol he has, but says he doesn't want to use it. Diego is opposed to bringing guns with them, because if they have guns, the guns will probably be used. Sergio remembers back on his past with Susana. He had only met Susana a couple of times. Then one day he picked her up at the Milan station. She was in charge of Prima Linea in Naples. She came for a conference with other branch leaders. After the meeting Sergio runs into so many problems driving his car that Susana says since she is going to miss her train, can she stay with Sergio tonight?
So Susana stays with Sergio. He tells her that a couple of times he thought of asking her to stay over, but he could never find a good excuse to ask her. Susana says she found an excuse easily enough. The train for Naples will leave in another half an hour. They kiss. They lay in bed together (brief nudity). Sergio tells her tomorrow that they're going to rob a gunshop in Veneto. Susana says she will come along with them.
The next day Sergio and a male comrade stop their car and run into the gunshop. Meanwhile, Susana writes "Prima Linea" in red paint on the main window of the shop. Later Sergio takes Susana back to Milan station. They both wonder if they will see each other again, not including at conferences.
Prison Break. Chioggia, 9:00 a.m. The radicals arrive and get into two cars already parked in the parking area. They go to an apartment building where they rendezvous with other radicals. They drive out in three cars.
Flashback. Sottomarina, 10:00 a.m. Andrea transferred to Naples in 1978 and he worked with Susana. They head out to attack a factory manager. A neighbor with a baby sees the couple and says to them that it's about time she ran into them. It's been a couple of months that they have been living in the apartment and she has not meet them as of yet. They walk outside. The mother says she forgot her formula. She gives the baby to Susana and goes back to her apartment. The baby starts crying.
Later they attack the manager at his work. They shoot him in three places, but don't kill them "this time".
Polesine, 10:30 a.m.
March 16, 1978. Rome. A part of the Red Brigade captured and later killed Aldo Moro. On May 9 his dead body was discovered.
Susana calls her mother to tell her she and her group were not involved in any way with the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.
In May the Prima Linea criticized the Red Brigades for killing Aldo Moro. But in October they decide to commit a political assassination. The date of the first killing was October 11, 1978. Then they did another on November 7 and another on January 19, 1979. Sergio wasn't involved in these killings, but he was involved in a killing that shocked even the leftists. Sergio follows a man with his son driving in his car. At 8:15 a.m. he drops his son at his school and continues his journey.
The group talks about the plot. One fellow doesn't want to kill the man because he worked on a very important case against the fascists. The feeling is, however, that Alessandrini is just too talented and now he's on to the political left. Sergio tells Susana that he has to go home before he carries out the assassination.
Sergio goes to the old apartment to see his folks. Mother, especially, gives him a warm welcome. Dad tells him that at work they say bad things about Sergio. They don't like what he's doing. Sergio says dad can tell him all about it at breakfast tomorrow, but in the morning Sergio takes off before anyone is up. He goes to see his friend Pietro who was asking about Sergio. They talk about the old demonstrations they were in. Pietro says he misses the old days. But now Sergio is doing what the Red Brigades are doing. He adds that the workers are not sympathetic to the tactics of the far left. Old allies now consider Sergio and his comrades as nutcases. Sergio has had enough and says he is going. Pietro says he will only ask him one thing? Did he kill anyone? Because, if he hasn't, there is still a chance for him. He could make it into Switzerland. Sergio says he will think about it. They hug and Sergio leaves.
Milan, January 29, 1979. Alessandrini drops his child at school. Sergio and a comrade walk up to his car stopped at a red light and shoot him dead. There is a big funeral for Alessandrini. The president of the Republic arrives to pay his respects to the deceased. The announcer says the crowds in Milan are silent and devastated. The casket is taken into the Duomo (that is, the cathedral church of Milan).
Prison Break. The three cars head toward the prison. The last car is stopped for only a short while so a policeman can warn the driver verbally about missing a couple of decals on the inside of his windshield. The stopped car goes ahead of the two other stopped cars and takes the lead. They turn into an abandoned building where they park their cars.
Rovigo Prison, 12:00 p.m. Susana and her comrades eat their lunch. Sergio tells the group that they heard over the radio that the police are checking any cars going into the city. He suggests that they wait where they are for awhile. If the checking of the cars doesn't stop in and hour or so, they will have to cancel the escape attempt. Susana and her comrades will be in the yard from three to four p.m.
As narrator Sergio says 1979 was the worst year of their lives. They continued killing and being killed. Two of their group died in a bar in Turin in a shoot-out with the police. For payback, the group killed the owner of the bar, but they found out later it wasn't the owner who called the police. It was someone else.
Flashback. In February of 1980 the group hit rock bottom. William Vaccher did small jobs for the group. One day the police arrested his cousin and Willy turned himself in because of his fear. The police broke him and he told the police everything he knew. This was the first time anyone in the group had rat finked. After three months Willy was released from jail.
Milan, February 7, 1980. The group shoots Willy dead. The shooter was Susana. She gets on a bus. Sergio goes away from Milan for awhile to lay low. Susana goes between Florence and Rome.
About six months later. Susana and Sergio have rented a house by the shore that only they know about. Susana is working on her notes for the organization meeting coming up in Florence. She is leaving this afternoon. Sergio tells her that he is staying here for the next executive meeting. During that meeting, he is going to say that he is leaving Prima Linea. He is burned out on all the killings. Susana is not sympathetic to Sergio. She is going to keep fighting because things are worse off now than a few years ago. Sergio says they lost any trace of the humanity in them when the group took up arms. Susana is so mad and upset that she goes out for a walk. She says if he wants to go, then go!
Florence, December 3, 1980. The police bust in on Susana while she is sleeping. They arrest her and put her in prison. She is kept in solitary for several days, but then the inmates start a protest and demand to see Susana. So the prison officials let non-militant Rita Alba in to talk with Susana. Rita asks her if the police did anything to her? Susana says she only has a few bruises. Now Rita has to tell Susana some bad news. Her mother died two months ago.
Prison Break. The roadblocks have now been lifted and the coast is clear for the escape. They have added a van to their caravan. In the prison the cell doors are opened so the women can go out into the yard.
Rovigo Prison, 3:00 p.m. The four women wait in the yard. The escape attempt starts. Everyone piles out of their cars and the van. The women start singing as loud as they can. The matron comes over and tells them exercise period is over. The four women grab her and put a gag in her mouth. The radicals start shooting at the guards in a small tower. They blow a huge hole in one of the walls of the prison. They call out for the women to run through the hole. One woman gets shot in the foot by a guard. They jump into the van and head out. They pass by the police cars racing to the prison.
Sergio decides to hide the van behind a house and stay there until the excitement dies down. Then they can try the major highways. Sergio tells Susana that he rented a place for them in Venice. Susana is thrilled about that. And now he talks of leaving Italy altogether. At least, Susana doesn't reject the idea out of hand. She starts kissing Sergio.
They all get back in the van and take off. On the radio it's said that one man died while walking his dog in the area of the blown wall. That upsets the group.
Sergio as narrator says he realized that none of his dreams would come true. He won't be able to go abroad or even go to Venice. They will stay until the end with the group. In a few months Susana was recaptured. Sergio says after that until the time he was arrested, he just stopped living. And after that he didn't get many chances to see Susana. When he finally got a chance to say something to her, he asked her to marry him.
Sergio says the death of all those he directly or indirectly killed now weigh heavily on his thoughts. He accepts the blame for the deaths.
Sergio Segio was arrested at age 27. His life sentence was later commuted to 22 years imprisonment. He was the last Prima Linea militant to be released in 2004.
Susana Ronconi, arrested in 1982, was released in 1998. Today they do volunteer work.
Good film. The film catches the radical feel of the 1960s and 1970s. It's not as exciting as Bonny and Clyde. That couple was much closer to each other emotionally and physically compared to Sergio and Susana, who were often separated. And Bonny and Clyde were a more "fun" couple. If you know any leftist political radicals, you know they can be pretty intense and oh, so serious. The love story of the two radicals was kind of sad because the couple were so separated. Sergio himself came to question what good were all those killings? Did it bring about a more just society in Italy? Not really. So, they didn't have to kill the people in the first place.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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