Simply the best.
Marco Bellochio's Exterior Night premiered in the 2022 Cannes Film Festival's Cannes Première section and was first released in the Italian cinemas in two separate installments before being broadcast in RAI 1. It's not the first time in his career that Bellochio, who also co-signs the show's screenplay along with Stefano Bises, Ludovica Rampoldi and Davide Serino, chooses to focus on the most traumatic event in recent Italian political history as in his 2003 feature Good Morning, Night also narrated the story of the Moro Case (in Italian: Caso Moro), though through the eyes of one of the terrorists who abducted and eventually murdered him after holding him in captivity for 54 days. In order to properly grasp the nuances and diverse aspects of the Moro Case, one should be a tad familiar with the social and political reality in Italy during the so-called "Years of Lead" ("Anni di piombo") and the "strategy of tension" that caused a massive upheaval, including assassinations and bombings with several victims, that lasted for about two decades (1968-1988). During that time, Italy was torn in two due to the outbreak of serious incidents which were caused by the various far-left and far-right activists who fought for more influence and impact on a corrupt political system that failed to contain the riots and eradicate the social turmoil.
The reasons lurking behind the central government's inaction became the subject of speculation among historians and political analysts with some of them stressing the critical interference of the U.S. and the NATO in Italian politics which may have fueled the "strategy of tension" in a country reigned by "an ill-managed centrist state, radical oppositional forces who may or may not have had State Department goals mixed in with their ideals, violence without benefit, and a peace where everyone loses." (Zach Lewis/Inreview) Such was the backdrop of Moro's kidnapping and Bellochio assumes that most members of the audience have at least a general idea of Italian politics at the time as he opts for a different narrative structure, centered around the major players of the case and devotes each one of the six episodes, except for the first and the last one, to a specific character, allowing the audience to witness the reaction of the government (through the eyes of the Minister of the Interior Francesco Cossiga, the misgivings of the head of the church (Pope Paul VI), the impact of the situation on Moro's family (through the perspective of his wife, Eleonora, and, finally, Bellochio offers voice to a young couple of terrorists belonging to the "Red Brigades" who have certain qualms regarding Moro's fate. Bellochio doesn't desire to impose his reading of the Moro Case, and he is very cautious in his character portrayals and "even the court of spies, fascists, Masons, protesters, infiltrators, sympathizers, priests, psychiatrists and mages are observed in non-visceral fashion." as Camillo de Marco remarks in his review on Cineuropa, something that comes in contradiction to his approach in Good Morning, Night, which can be described as more vehement.
The first episode opens with Moro (Fabrizio Gifuni), as the head of the Christian Democracy party, straightening out the last details of the "Historic Compromise", which foresaw support for the government from the Italian Communist Party, a movement in the chessboard that caused major concerns in both the United States and the USSR as the Italian party had distanced itself from the Soviet Union. We watch as Moro discusses the subject with some of the elite members of the government, and the episode concludes with his abduction after a meticulously planned ambush by members of the Red Brigades on the morning of 16 March 1978. From the second episode onwards, the show reverts to its intended framework, and we follow the Minister of Interior, Francesco Cossiga (Fausto Russo Allesi) who embarks on an introspective journey as he tries to get on top of things and outline a non-ambivalent strategy that will bring Moro safe back home. To say that Allesi breathes life to his role would be an understatement and I strive to think of an analogous performance, either in television or cinema, that conveys the humanity and vulnerability of a man who is submerged into deep waters, having to face a situation that proves to be too much for him. The way in which he delivers his lines combined with a constant strain and tension manifested in his facial muscles is a treat to watch. His presence in episode 2 is the reason that makes this second part the most compelling one in the whole series.
Gifuni is also splendid in his rendition of Moro, a tormented man who becomes the victim of his turbulent age and his own friends in the Italian government who, in one word, FAIL to do something drastic to save his life: "There’s a sincere humanity to his eerily calm, depraved bourgeoise manner, enough so to make his kidnapping feel devastating at times." (Luke Hicks/The Film Stage) The authorities' inertia and delayed reflexes are one of the director's principal concerns: "as each powerful character laments their inability to do anything to change the course of events, the series itself presents an inability to say anything beyond that.", writes Zach Lewis on Inreview.com. Thus, the show's tone and style is aligned with the status quo that dominated the Italian political scene during the 1970s. Moro wrote more than 80 letters during his time in captivity, and Bellochio assigns Gifuni with the task of theatrically intoning several of them in some of the most touching and hair-rising scenes of Exterior Night. Of course, it would be a great omission if I didn't mention the magnetic performance by Margherita Buy as Eleonora Moro, wife of Aldo, and the fifth's episode opening with her confession is a sequence that belongs to the anthology of the best shot and written scenes in television ever. As for Toni Servillo who plays the Pope, who was a close friend of Moro and intervened in his abduction by sending a timorous letter to the terrorists asking them to let their hostage free, what can I say? He is the best Italian actor of his generation and one of the most skillful ones at a global scale.
Apart from the outstanding acting, Exterior Night has several more treasured qualities with the cinematography by Francesco Di Giacomo who suffuses his shots with a wide array of coloring, from melancholy blues to antiseptic green, and keeping the camera at a certain distance from the main characters, mirroring the director's intentions regarding the show's tone. I think that this is one of the best European TV series of the last few years, and it stands at the same level with productions such as My Brilliant Friend, and I would not hesitate for a moment to name it as the Chernobyl (HBO) of its category. Exterior Night is not a political thriller investing in noisy action scenes nor a true-to-life docuseries. It is a dramatization of real events that marked Italy's recent political history, and it intends to show the ramifications of the kidnapping in the lives of certain people, the main characters who lead the narrative of each episode, offering their own take on the matter. The Moro case is one that "offers up class struggles and utopias, revolution and Christianity, the ambiguities of power and the cynicism of politics, family dynamics and the urges of the ego, mass communication methods and media manipulation." (Cineuropa), so I would urge you to stop watching what you are right now, stream the first episode and relish the majestic work by a director who has proved that he is one of the foremost "experts" on that niche historical subject.