Like the well-known American film and TV series of the same name, Andrea Manni’s sophomore effort “The Fugitive” follows a man on the run unjustly accused of murdering a woman. The differences begin with the fact this is a true story based on co-scripter Massimo Carlotto’s autobiography, and the chilling idea that a similar nightmare could happen to any member of the audience is a big part of film’s built-in tension. This fast-paced psychological thriller should have legs in Italy, where the case is still remembered, while the genre references could help it become one of Italy’s better performers offshore.
Though it largely escapes the artfilm category, pic carries a strong message in its withering condemnation of the Italian legal system and the police forces of three countries, making it impeccable festival material.
Padua, 1976. Massimo Carlotto (the handsome Daniele Liotti) is 17 when he hears screams coming from a building and goes to investigate. The woman is already dead. Because he is a militant in the left-wing group Lotta Continua and because these are Italy’s years of terrorism, he waits hours before going to the police to report what he’s seen, accompanied by his lawyer Bruno Vignoni (Alessandro Benvenuti.) He’s subjected to hours of hostile interrogation and finally arrested.
Thus begins a chain of legal travesties in which the police, it is implied, have a diabolical hand. Evidence (a hair under the victim’s fingernail) vanishes, other witnesses are never interrogated; Massimo’s political affiliations are held against him and he is basically framed for the murder. Trial after trial, the sentence of 18 years in prison is confirmed.
Eventually, one court overturns the verdict and Massimo is freed, but the next judge orders him back to jail. Unwilling to face the unjust sentence, he jumps on a train for Paris and goes into hiding.
His life as a fugitive in Paris provides the longest and least inventive part of the film. His only friends are Lotta Continua contacts like Lolo (Joaquim De Almeida), who offer a safe house and instruct him in the art of lying low. Fleeting visits from his girlfriend (Claudia Coli) and supportive parents (Francesca De Sapio and Roberto Citran) do little to alleviate the stress of his life, which is full of close calls with the police.
Ill and unable to stand the tension any longer, he flees to Mexico City and enrolls in the university. This colorful interlude, lightened by the illusion he will soon get a Mexican passport and new identity, climaxes with his arrest and torture by police far more brutal than the Italians and French. Released from jail, he chooses to give himself up to the Italian authorities at Milan airport who, in a humorous moment aptly summing up the country’s legal chaos, can’t find his arrest warrant.
Although Italian auds already know how the story ends, film keeps building emotional tension until a final moment of cathartic release when, after 11 trials, six years in prison and five years on the run, Massimo receives a presidential pardon.
This should be a breakthrough film for Liotti, who faces the trials of Job with a very human mixture of defiance and vulnerability. A bit of inspired casting is well-known comedian and director Benvenuti, who makes a heroic showing here as Massimo’s idealistic lawyer. De Almeida is a convincing choice as his South American contact and moral lifeline in Paris; De Sapio and Citran are both standouts in smaller roles as Massimo’s despairing but ever-loving parents.
Sturdy tech work is enlivened by the thoroughly modern sounds of musician Teho Teardo.