the third of January, 1982. A few terrorists are still at large – among them
Sergio Segio, a Prima Linea militant who breaks his jailed girlfriend Susanna
Ronconi out from Rovigo penitentiary. A last desperate act that was to be the
start of a new life abroad but that instead opened the gates to a prison from
which there was no return.
La Prima Linea, by director Renato De Maria, had its world premiere at the
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), featuring excellent performances by
actors Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Riccardo Scamarcio. The film prompted the
former left-wing terrorist Segio to admit to "feeling the weight of all the
victims – even those I didn't directly hit. My responsibility is political,
moral, and judiciary – I assume all three."
De Maria, through his use of imagery, recounts a black page in history from the
Lead Years, recreating the escape of Ronconi and other detainees affiliated
with the terror group, the Moro murder, that of union leader Guido Rossa, and
of judge Emilio Alessandrini – "a good man because he was the first to say that
the Piazza Fontana bomb was placed there by fascists and not by us," the
terrorists say as they sit at the table scheming his murder.
Segio, also known as commander Sirio, often appears ready to pull out "but only
in 1980 did I realize I hit rock-bottom when William Waccher was arrested and,
weak-willed, became the first collaborator with the justice system."
Segio's real confrontation is with his girlfriend Ronconi – they're pictured in
hiding in an ocean-side home.
"We made a bunch of errors and we lost our humanity when we first picked up
weapons," he says as he tells her of his intention to leave Prima Linea.
Ronconi is arrested in December, 1980. Then there's her escape from Rovigo
prison and the recapture of both Ronconi and Segio. She was released in 2002,
he in 2004.
Memories, terror, fate, controversy: De Maria's La Prima Linea is all this. It
was created from a book he found by chance in a library. It took three years to
recreate the facts that during the terrorism epic culminated in eight weeks of
shooting in northern Italy and a stream of criticism and taunting. It's a hard
topic. It deals with events that have marked the history of Italy and left open
wounds, and that's why during scene shooting, relatives of the victims and
former kidnap victims showed up to ask that the film be banned.
"My objective was to
present just the facts that occurred and, through those, to try to understand,
and not to pass judgement," says director De Maria who was at TIFF for the La
Prima Linea debut.
Why did you decide to direct a film based on the experience and testimony of a
former left-wing terrorist?
"By chance, I came across the book Miccia Corta by Sergio Segio in the library,
and I read the story of the jail break to free his woman. From the
cinematographic point of view, it was a very powerful idea. But clearly, in the
story of the day – which we significantly amplified – I saw the possibility of
telling the life story of two main characters in the history of Italian
terrorism. Many of us lived through those years of terror. We're aware of the
facts, of what happened to the victims – but cinematographically, the story has
never been told about what was going on with those persons to lead them to
become terrorists, to make certain choices, make tragic errors, and above all
to lead them to decide to take the life of others."
On the big screen, a disconnected Segio tells his girlfriend that "˜we lost our
humanity when we took up arms,' or other phrases like "˜I'm tired of seeing
terror in the eyes of victims.' Did you want to emphasize his admission of
"When he was arrested, Segio was 26, which means he was 22 or 23 when he killed
judge Alessandrini. We're talking about a very young generation that threw
themselves headfirst into a movement without probably having the maturity or
rationality to truly understand what they were doing. This aspect for me smacks
of desperation because there's sorrow for the victims, but also of horror of
seeing youth squandered away."
What was Segio's reaction when you told him of your intention to do a film
based on his book?
"When we contacted him to ask for the film rights, we embarked on a long
negotiation because he wanted to understand the type of project we had in mind,
seeing that it would be about his life. I said right from the start that I
didn't want to romanticize their images and that the script would mirror my
conception of the reality. My film is an authentic story about the
facts.Passing judgment and ideological debate that will surely be unleashed
will also be a valid implication because one of the film's positive elements is
exactly that – to spark discussion."
So far it has only sparked
"Yes, but I'm convinced that once the film is seen by general audiences,
discussion will open up."
You have yet to answer criticisms and accusations. Only your producer Andrea
Occhipinti has defended you.
"I'm convinced that the film will speak for me. I'm an artist, I have the
priviledge and good fortune of having a language to express myself with: film.
Before entering the debate, I want to first give audiences the opportunity to
see the film. Clearly, there are certain controversies that have disturbed me
because one needs to see the film before passing judgment."
They've also criticized your choice of two charismatic actors such as Scamarcio
and Mezzogiorno because of the risk that they are emulated.
"That's the most bizarre thing I've heard so far. The characters in my film are
very complex so I needed two good, professional actors of a certain age. I
certainly could not have selected an anonymous 40-year-old. The strength of the
film is also in its ability to evoke strong emotion – both positive and
negative – and that is in part from the talent of the actors. Riccardo
Scamarcio is one of those. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is an exceptional professional
who has also worked in Hollywood and in France. But it's obvious that someone
who becomes an actor is usually not ugly. He may not be good looking but he
offers something special that makes him a star, otherwise he'd be a character
actor. So maybe we shouldn't be doing films any more with Pitt or Clooney
because they are too good looking?"
You spoke of a long negotiation with Sergio Segio over the film rights. Was
there any collaboration during the creative process?
"Absolutely not because that would not be right. My scriptwriters Sandro
Petraglia, Ivan Cotroneo, and Fidel Signorile never met Segio who was a source
of information but was not involved in the artistic process in any way."
Have Segio and Ronconi seen the film about to be distributed?
"Only portions of it. Their
reaction was one of distress in seeing the tragic events of their past. They
both liked the film's context but would have preferred some scenes be told
differently. But overall, the characters are not very far from the reality."
Did Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Riccardo Scamarcio meet Ronconi and Segio to
prepare for their roles in the film?
"Scamarcio asked to meet him, and they saw each other twice, although the Segio
he did meet was a 54- to 55-year-old man who did 22 years of jail time and not
the youth we portray in the film. It wasn't a face-to-face with a personality
who is identical to the role he was playing, but he did meet someone he will
not forget. And the same thing happened with Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Susanna
In the film, you also put emphasis on the Moro tragedy and on a Segio who was
trying to distance himself. Don't you think this decision could lead to further
"It was impossible not to include the Moro killing because that tragedy marked
a trend to an increased ruthlessness by the terrorist movement and a further
detachment from society. Until then there had been a generational
rebelliousness related to Prima Linea who – although they were contrary to it –
were aware that other terrorist groups came to join them. They didn't approve
of one another but they didn't condemn each other either because up to that
point in time they hadn't killed anyone. After the Moro tragedy – which Prima
Linea first opposed then went with the flow – the detachment with society
became even more pronounced. The organization became more isolated and its
affiliates became feared executors of an ideology that had developed within
their inner circles. They were no longer connected to reality, they were
crazed, and I wanted to emphasize this process by putting into the film a
fragment of archive footage."
What was the hardest part during shooting?
"We filmed in Turin and Milan, in Polesine, from Venice to Rovigo, covering the
trip he made on the day of the escape attempt. The trips, especially those with
the pickup van, were complicated but the main challenge was to reconstruct the
Pinerolo prison by adding walls to correspond exactly to the layout of the
Rovigo penitentiary. The entire film was challenging. I'd say it was an epochal
effort that I was satisfied with but that also exhausted me."
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