Monday, December 17, 2007

The Hundred Steps

The Hundred Steps is a historical film, depicting the life of Peppino Impastato, outspoken activist against the Mafia. The film is a terrific look into a significant time period in the history of Italy.

Researching Italian history, I am amazed to find how deeply the idea of communism is rooted in Italy. For a country so slow to industrialize, Italy has taken vast steps towards the left. It began with the Partito Socialista Italiano, PSI, or Italian Socialist Party in 1892. This party at its height was 860 thousand members strong in 1946, according to Wikipedia. This party eventually split into two separate groups: the reformists- who were strong in parliament, and the maximalists- led by Mussolini. Soon the Maximalist group overcame the reformists and ousted them from the party. Developed through leftist views came the Partito Comunista Italiano, PCI, or Italian Communist party, a group that reached higher prevalence than the socialist group with over 2 million members in 1947. The group was once led by Antonio Bordiga and Antonio Gramsci as they increased the rift between their party and the socialists.

The Red Brigades was a terrorist group active during the “Years of Lead” or highly turbulent time of political instability. There were many politically-motivated murders, one being the killing of Aldo Moro, who was assassinated during this time. Moro, a Christian Democrat, was trying to make compromises with the Communist party, led by Enrico Berlinguer, an agreement known as the compromesso storico, or historic compromise. In an extremist response, the Red Brigades kidnapped Moro and after 54 days of captivity, assassinated him. The terrorist group left the body in the trunk of the car half way between the Christian Democratic office and Communist offices in a symbolic gesture. Today there are also many different conspiracy theories concerning the death of Moro.

The actions of the Red Brigade show some significant resemblance to the FLQ, or Front de libération du Québec (Quebec Liberation Front). The FLQ was another terrorist group that used extreme means instead of peaceful endeavors. Like the Red Brigades, the FLQ was comprised of Marxist followers who wanted to declare war on their Anglophone oppressors, overthrow Quebec government, and separate from Canada. The group was active from the years 1963-1970, and was responsible for over 200 bombings and the death of five people. Two separate FLQ cells kidnapped two political figures, one after the other. First it was English-speaking James Cross, British Trade Commissioner, and than Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s own Minister of Labour. Laporte was soon killed (some reports suggest it was an accident). In order for Cross to be released they made several demands, including transportation to Cuba. Some of them were met and after two months, and Cross was finally let go. This period was known as the October Crisis.

This terror organization seemed to operate much like the Red Brigades, or least performed some acts that are closely similar. These actions took place less than a decade before, and proved to be successful on some account. The actions of this group could have likely inspired the Red Brigade’s kidnapping of Aldo Moro.


Color. The mise-en-scene in the film is very detailed. The use of the color red is abundant throughout the movie. For instance in the scene where the young Peppino is at his Uncle’s funeral, his small frame is surrounded (?) by an extravagant red thrown like chaird looking like the king of Communism (if there could be one). Also in the scene after his father first learns of his dealings with Communism, there is a red light covering him while he is lying on the bed, showing that this ideal of Communism was soon to encompass his life.

Music. There was also a significant amount of American music used in the film. In fact in scenes that show Peppino in progress, mostly have an American soundtrack in the background. I found this extremely peculiar, since for most American, the ideal of communism is taboo. II Iasldkfjfjdkls;a jlkewr Although the soundtrack featured artists synonymous with the anti-war, leftist view, like Janis Joplin and Lenard Cohen. I was also surprised to see how the hippie culture was vastly apparent in Italy during that time.

The story is one that is bittersweet. The reality of it even seems to contain dramatic, narrative elements. The way in which Peppino was killed mirrored the same way that his Uncle, whom he had a positive relationship with, was killed. There is also the probability they along with Peppino’s father were set up to be killed by the same person, Don Tano. Tano, who lived just one hundred steps away, was an interesting figure. In the 80’s he came to the U.S. and sold drugs out of pizza parlor. He was convicted in 1987 for drug trafficking and then later in 2002, was convicted of the death of Peppino Impastato. Tano died in prison. His drug empire was estimated at $1.65 billion.

A complex version of Tano exists in the film. In the scene where he visits Peppino at the coffee house we see a side to Tano that we have not previously encountered. You see the struggle inside of Peppino as Tano explains what he has done for his family. In a sense, Tano helping Peppino’s father, actually helped Peppino become what he was. Peppino’s family wasn’t suffering from financial peril and this allowed him and his brother to attend school. Is the scene in the pizza parlor a dream sequence, or did Tano really offer an escape path to Peppino?

It is very ironic that the Impastato business was a pizza parlor, which was also the means that Tano used to sell drugs in the states.


sficano said...
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sficano said...
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sficano said...

First, I wanted to say that I always appreciate the historical background of films lie you provided! While many films can be enjoyed on a superficial level, it is always much more enjoyable to take an in-depth look based on the history.

The historical connection regarding the parallel to the FLQ that you mentioned is what I found most interesting! I studied the FLQ in my French film course and there is a very interesting political film that depicts one of their extremities - when they incidentally murdered Vice-Premier of Québec, Pierre Laporte. This group truly got out of hand. What is interesting is that they can compare to the Red Brigade in this film, however, there were merely 12 members in this group! It is amazing how the power and control of these types of groups can so quickly get out of hand.

If anyone is interested, this was a made for TV movie that aired in Quebec to show the events of that murder. The film is called "Octobre 1970" and it is in French with English subtitles.

Again, thanks for the blog and the interesting connection!