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Film Review: Piazza Fontana, the Italian Conspiracy

The original Italian name of this film is Romanzo di una Strage which translates as 'novel of a massacre', so titled because even today there is some mystery as to who did what to whom and for what reason. The film puts forward a very plausible account, loosely based on the book ‘Il Segreto di Piazza Fontana’ by Paolo Cucchiarelli.

Made in 2012, the film depicts actual events of the years 1969-72, the start of an almost 20 year period of domestic terrorism that became known in Italy as gli anni di piombo (the years of lead). It’s perfectly possible to enjoy this crime and political thriller knowing nothing of the background situation in Italy at that time and it really is a very good film, one of the best to come out of Italy in the last 10 years or more.

The direction, by the very accomplished Marco Tullio Giordana (of i Cento Passi and la Meglio Gioventù fame) is excellent, also the cinematography. Some of Italy’s best actors take part and there are fine performances in particular from Fabrizio Gifuni, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs Aldo Moro, and Valerio Mastandrea as the lead investigator Luigi Calabresi. Aldo Moro is given some of the best lines in the film and we are made to believe that he is one of the few to understand the danger of the unravelling situation when he states (accurately) to the President that “Italy is a fragile democracy”.

For those who would prefer some background, the wider context of the events of this film go back to the end of the Second World War when it became clear that Greece and Italy were the two countries in Western Europe with the largest communist parties and most at risk in American and NATO ’s eyes of coming under the hegemony of the Soviet Union.

In 1967 the CIA (and probably also Vatican agents) sorted out the Greek problem by helping to install the right wing Greek Colonels in power by means of a coup d’état, and then their attention turned to Italy. The situation in Italy was boiling over in mid 1969 ( it became known as autunno caldo or hot autumn) with massive industrial unrest, strikes, demonstrations and the inception of yet another far left organization called Lotta Continua, even as the Italian Communist party was gaining a larger share of the popular vote at every election, reaching 27% in this period.

Coming on the heels of the turbulent events of 1968 in France and elsewhere in Europe, the situation in 1969 in Italy was viewed by certain factions rightly or wrongly as a pre-revolutionary state of affairs. The Italian Communist party could not survive without funding from the Soviet Union and despite the brutal Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring the year before, being a Soviet sympathizing communist in Italy in 1969 or even an anarchist was a perfectly respectable point of view in Italian society, strange though that seems to Americans and British.


Piazza Fontana film poster

Though some on the left were clearly extremists there were also plenty of dangerous neo-fascists at that time in Italy, many of them with agent provocateur agendas. The combustible situation in 1969 was not one in which both America and its partners, the ruling Italian Christian Democratic party, were content to sit idly by and watch from the sidelines.

The film examines the conflict between law enforcement and politics as a result of the terrorist incident of December 12 1969 and caught in the middle is Luigi Calabresi, whose son praised this movie’s portrayal of his father while at the same time bemoaning the film's lack of blame for what subsequently happened to him.

The film ends in 1972 but the events portrayed in the film had repercussions that went on for decades afterwards. Four separate trials took place during the 1970s followed by appeals and a Supreme Court decision in 1987. A second set of trials took place in the 1980s and a third set in the early 2000s. And during all of this in 1998 a Milan judge indicted a US Navy officer for military espionage relating to the Piazza Fontana incident but there doesn’t seem to be any record of what took place after the indictment, so it was probably made to go away quietly. Over 50 years later there has still been no official inquiry into Piazza Fontana and its aftermath.

What is undeniable is that for the 20 years after 1969, terrorism by right wing and left wing terrorists convulsed Italy. It included the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro, a key player in this film, by the left wing Red Brigade in 1978. While in captivity Moro spoke to his captors about his conviction that the Piazza Fontana bomb was the work of right wing terrorists helped by Franco's fascist regime in Spain and probably also the secret service of other western nations, an obvious reference to the US.

For this account of Moro's last conversations one is obliged to take the word of his assassins who, surprisingly, have all been free men now for the last 20-25 years, unrepentant and unapologetic and at liberty to walk along any of the 2,600 streets in Italy now bearing the name Aldo Moro.