The Front Line

An elegiac drama about youthful ideals, spent political passion and the Prima Linea.

With: Riccardo Scamarcio, Giovanna Mezzogiorno. (Italian dialogue)

A sense of the morning-after infects “The Front Line,” an elegiac drama about youthful ideals, spent political passion and the Marxist-Leninist organization Prima Linea, second only to the Red Brigades among the dozens of armed leftist factions that helped terrorize ’70s Italy. A sturdy-enough political thriller from TV helmer Renata De Maria, it requires so many introductory titles — a virtual onscreen print war — that non-Italian auds will be heading off for an espresso before the first human face is seen. Those with longer memories and a grasp of the era’s leftist-rightist struggle will find the film infinitely more accessible.

Reminiscent of Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night,” which concerned the notorious kidnapping/murder of ex-prime minister Aldo Moro, “The Front Line” begins with a summation — Sergio Segio (Riccardo Scamarcio) behind bars, talking to the camera and admitting that, long before the violence ended, the pointlessness of Prima Linea’s fight had become clear to him. But they pushed on, as if to reignite their passion through violence. It’s a fatalistic way of setting up the story, and given Sergio’s lack of enthusiasm for the cause, it doesn’t exactly draw one to the edge of one’s seat.

The film also is burdened with a double flashback: From his jail cell, Sergio recalls how he masterminded the prison break of his lover and fellow Front Liner, Susanna Ronconi (a pretty terrific Giovanna Mezzogiorno, “Vincere”), and from that point, Sergio recalls their meeting, romance and decision to go underground.

Helmer De Maria constructs some first-rate scenes — the prison break itself is gripping; the group’s tactics for negotiating roadblocks and bluffing their way past police prove suitably suspenseful. But the best sequence is all but action-free: Accidentally running into the neighbor they’ve been avoiding (to remain as anonymous as possible), Susanna is asked to hold the woman’s baby, which begins to cry uncontrollably. Both Susanna and Sergio are helpless, and one gets the distinct sense that the baby knows there are murderers around her. It’s a memorable moment.

Would that there were more: Ultimately, “The Front Line” is a credible adventure story, with few surprises. Production values are good, especially the execution of the action sequences.

Popular on Variety

The Front Line

Italy - Belgium

Production: A Lucky Red (Italy) presentation in association with Les Films du Fleuve and RTBF (Belgium). (International sales: the Works, London.) Produced by Andrea Occhipinti, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Executive producers, Gianluca Arcopint, Delphine Tomson. Co-producer, Arlette Zylberberg. Directed by Renata De Maria. Screenplay, Sandro Petraglia, Ivan Cotroneo, Fidel Signorile, from the book "Miccia corta" by Sergio Segio.

Crew: Camera (color), Gian Filippo Corticelli; editor, Marco Spoletini; music, Max Richter; production designers, Alessandra Mura, Igor Gabriel; costume designer, Nicoletta Taranta; sound, Mario Iaquone; associate producers, Stefano Massenzi, Carl Clifton; casting, Francesco Vedovati. Reviewed at Toronto Film festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 13, 2009. Running time: 100 MIN.

With: With: Riccardo Scamarcio, Giovanna Mezzogiorno. (Italian dialogue)

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