Murder charge for a student


To my son Daniele who is becoming a man

Mauro Bolognini (1922-2001) is an amazing and versatile film director. He mainly focused on romantic comedies but began his career by making romantic neorealism films such as ‘Marisa, la civetta’, as well as civic engaged works beside Pier Paolo Pasolini ,‘La notte brava’,  adaptations of literary works such as ‘Il bell’Antonio, Agostino, Senilità, Un bellissimo novembre, gli indifferenti’, the grotesque ‘Gran bollito’ and comedy in its purest form ‘Dove vai in vacanza’ which anticipates the sexually charged comedy ‘La veneziana’. His distinctive feature is the ability of transporting literary and narrative masterpieces into images without modifying the original work.

Murder charge for a student (1972) is an atypical movie for him, which despite this, demonstrates his huge versatility in the field. This movie is linked to the historical period in which it is set: a political, troublesome and nonconformist period which, from one side, tried to analyze the difficult parents and children relation and the generational conflict, amplified by political opinions. At the same time it was aimed at pointing the finger at the violent repressions perpetuated by the police.

The movie’s plot. Fabio Sola (Ranieri) comes from a middle-class family: his father Aldo (interpreted by Balsam),a judge, and his mother Luisa (Cortese). Despite his social status, he’s a college student who sympathizes for an extra parliamentary political group. During a clash with the police, Fabio kills a soldier with an iron fist. Massimo Trotti (Diberti) is arrested, thanks to a set up by two police commissioners (Ferro e Colizzi). The judge Sala leads the investigations which lead in another direction: trying to figure out which officer killed the student. The judge’s discovery that his own son is a revolutionary and a killer gives the movie a highly dramatic ending. Sala retires from the judiciary and decides that his aim will be to understand those sons who are so different from their parents rather than judging them.

Murder charge for a student is not a movie immune to rhetorical and calligraphic elements; moreover, the work is not completely finished because too many artificial and rhetorical dialogues affect Pirro and Liberatore’s screenplay. However, this remains an important historical document for its rendering of a generational fight based on political ideologies. “Wrong ideas scare more than the drugs” an investigating magistrate claims predicting the revolutionary drift. His son replies: “And who decides which ideas are wrong?”

All the action scenes are marvelously filmed: from the fights in the streets at the start of the film, through the realistic slogans (Fighting hard without fear!) shouted by students, to the secret meetings spent printing clandestine newspapers with the cyclostyle. These are all events that my generation lived through and still suffers from.

For a movie of such an importance, realism is the key word. We find it both in its political rhetoric but especially in the family conflict when a father is compelled to judge his son and a mother tries desperately to save the fruit of her womb. The political part is quite old-fashioned, but the middle-class family drama is current and it brings the spectator to empathize with the events, embracing the father’s decision. The final scene with the camera framing the judge while throwing the murder weapon in the river Tiber is perfect; it represents the conclusive proof that would have set his son up.

Murder charge… is not a police movie, even if it uses techniques which are features of that genre; it is socially engaging movie with some elements of  Elio Petri’s style, although less rigorous and permeating with a sense of pity which is typical of Bolognini. Police officers don’t make a good impression: the two chiefs stereotyped the idea of the fascist police unable of doing anything but swinging their nightsticks and being unable to understand the students. The image of the magistrate is way much better: a complex figure who, even when riddled by doubts, seeks to achieve transparency and justice by remaining a Conservative, middle-class man incapable to understand revolutionary ideas.

Bolognini uses both close-ups scenes and the zoom (in a simple way) adapting it to the historical period. He leads the actors with a steady hand and he produces a theatrical work with some photographical shoots of Rome as it was in the 70s. Ennio Morricone wrote the memorable soundtrack which highlights the moments of deep tension. Bruno Nicolai is the music director while Ruzzolini edited the photography and Baragli edits the movie rather quickly at the time.

The actors were amazing, ranging from a juvenile Ranieri playing the persuasive role of the middle-class revolutionary young man with extra parliamentary sympathies, to Valentina Cortese, the intense and theatrical mother devastated by sorrow. The shining star of the movie is without doubts the American Martin Balsam, an extraordinary interpreter of a complex character: a judge who loves his son up to the point where he plays pinball in order to understand him. The roles played by Pino Colizzi and Turri Ferro (the two chiefs who can’t  understand young people) and Salvo Randone (the judge’s superior) are more conventional. The spirit of the time has been conveyed in a perfect way especially for what concerns the fights among police forces and students, the political clashes between Conservative and Democratic young men and the cruel attacks by trucks near the University.

The intimate and dramatic parts remain the best and the freshest ones aged for a movie which deserves to be discovered again: one of the dialogues between father and son, in fact, can be seen as a leitmotiv which might be useful still nowadays. “What have you become?” “All you didn’t want me to be”. In a time when political ideologies don’t create a gap among generations, because nobody believes in politics anymore, there’s something which divides fathers and sons. Sometimes we wonder what our son has become and we can answer that ourselves: exactly what we didn’t want. It is possible that by seeing this movie again, we doubt our parental actions and perhaps- like judge Sala- we might have the courage to take a break to meditate and understand.

Translation by Francesca Pietroboni (edited by Sabrina Macchi)

Director: Mauro Bolognini. Subject: Ugo Pirro. Scereenplay: Ugo Pirro, Ugo Liberatore. Photography: Giuseppe Ruzzolini. Editing: Nino Baragli. Musics: Ennio Morricone. Music director: Bruno Nicolai. Musical editions: Apollo srl. Scenography and Setting: Guido Josia. Costums: Maria Baroni. Production director: Romano Dandi. Production: Gianni Hecht Lucari per la Documento Film. Distribution: Titanus. Actors: Massimo Ranieri (Fabio Sola), Martin Balsam (Giudice Aldo Sola), Valentina Cortese (Luisa Sola), Turi Ferro (Commissario Malacarne), Giuseppe Colizzi (Commissario Cottone), Salvo Randone (Procuratore Gentile), Luigi Diberti (Massimo Trotti), Petra Pauly (Carla Stale), Mariano Rigillo (Luca Binda), Carlo Valli (Alfio Ricci), Sergio Enria, Gino Milli, Piero Gerlini, Luigi Bonos, Aldo Ricci, Massimo Sarchielli, Sandra Cardini, Anna Fadda, Paolo Bonetti, Alessandro Francisci. Year: 1972