Cannes 2017 review: After the War (Annarita Zambrano)

In the ’70s and early ’80s, Italy was suffering through the so-called ‘Years of Lead’, a decade in which internal ultra-left wing terrorism took over 400 lives. In 1985, then French president François Mitterand instated the ‘Mitterand doctrine’, which promised to not extradite former Italian terrorists, causing the exile of hundreds of former Red Brigades to France. The doctrine effectively ended in 2002 after Marco Biagi, a jurist connected to Silvio Berlusconi, was gunned down on the steps of the Bologna university he was teaching at. This led to a slew of extradition requests and a witch hunt on the exiled.

It is against this background that Italian first-time director Annarita Zambrano sets her debut feature After the War. Marco Lamberti is a former left-wing activist living in Paris with his teen daughter Viola. The murder of Biagi, executed by a group claiming to follow on from the group Lamberti had formed in 1980, leads to calls for extradition of Lamberti. He and Viola leave Paris for a friend’s house in the countryside, with plans to head for Central America. In the meantime, his family back in Bologna, whom he hasn’t seen for 20 years, also have to face the consequences of the acts of their son and brother decades before.

Zambrano chooses to mostly shun the politics, and focuses on the family drama behind the sins of one man, and how they have an impact on the lives of those connected to him decades later. Lamberti is the one who committed the crime (a political murder), but it is his family who are punished. While this makes for some intense drama, especially between father and daughter (a standout Charlotte Cétaire), it feels like a missed opportunity to investigate a period of political turmoil in Zambrano’s country. The idea of the younger generation facing the consequences of the actions of the older one is as old as Greek tragedy; exploring this theme set against such a specific background without delving into that background, as Zambrano does, the sins of Lamberti might have been anything. This reduces the film to a standard family drama, and also in a way reduces Lamberti to a supporting character in his own story, in which Viola is far better drawn than her father.

What is even more problematic is a late deus ex machina that resolves the plot. Without giving the ending away, the moment suggests an action by Viola that is hard to believe, even though it thematically fits, and is logically and logistically far-fetched. Furthermore, some of the commentary is a bit on the nose. Lamberti’s sister, for instance, trying to make amends for the acts of her brother, has gone on to teach literature, countering violence with culture. Doing that through teaching Dante’s Inferno, with its emphasis on sin and punishment, is perhaps a bit much though.

In terms of filmmaking, Zambrano certainly shows talent and a knack for visual storytelling. She is immensely helped by Cétaire’s expressive face in this regard. The young actress manages to convey a lot of her inner turmoil through her silent stares, as Viola feels a chasm opening up between herself and her father, as if she has never really known him before. Giuseppe Battiston as Lamberti is less effective, but the problem there lies mainly in the fact that the character is rather one-dimensional. The only time Lamberti is given a chance for some more definition is when he gives an interview to an Italian magazine: showing no remorse or compassion, Lamberti refuses to disavow his life, and Battiston convincingly shows Lamberti’s stern and strident convictions.

After the War is a moderately successful debut that shows the aftermath of a war having led into another war altogether, a war that never really ends. Unfortunately, the drama is too generic for such specific subject matter, no matter how well played it is. Zambrano (in the press kit) says that the ‘Years of Lead’ are still an open wound in Italy, but is not prepared to examine it.