The Years of Lead (Anni di piomno) was a period of socio-political abruption in Italy from the late 1960s into the early 1980s. This period was marked by a wave of terrorism. Italian cinema has played a prominent role in portraying the ongoing impact of the anni di piomno and in defining the ways in which Italians remember and work through the events associated with this traumatic decade. The film Colpire al cuore (1982) serves as a vision of terrorism analyzed through the generation gap between father and son. The film takes place in Milan during the early 1980s.
Dario (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a university professor, husband, and loving father to son Emilio. He is recognized for both his professional and social successes. Meanwhile his neglected teenage son Emilio (Fausto Rossi) lives in the shadow of his father. Emilio treats his father with the upmost respect so as to always stay in his good graces. Yet all this changes following the climax of the film. When a terrorist act linked to the Red Brigades leaves one of Dario’s close friends dead, Emilio becomes suspicious, leading to a conflict that damages the once steady father-son relationship between these two main characters.
Terrorism has more devastating effects that what meets the eye as shown on television or read in newspapers. It goes without being said that terrorist attacks damage more than just property and the victims of the crime scene. Similarly, it is not just about the tension amongst the relationship between opposing activists either. The circumstances and perspectives surrounding terrorism can also seek to destroy relationships amongst innocent families with opposing viewpoints from the inside out. Director Gianni Amelio finds the importance in illustrating such a concept.
This film serves as a realistic scenario of how such an effect can escalate. Amelio draws from the depths of psychology to create a psycholoanalytical interpretation of the clashing moral conflicts between the father and son. The driving force is the question of Dario’s innocence or guilt being put up for debate while Emilio works to investigate. As the story unfolds, perceptions are molded as viewers examine Emilio’s multi-faceted interpretations of an elusive truth. At the beginning of the film, it is easy to see why Dario is viewed as such an admirable man.
He is renown for his work as a literature professor both in and outside the classroom, consistently exhibiting a strong passion for academics. Nevertheless he still finds time and value in the bonds he holds with his family and friends. He willingly goes the extra step for the people he cherishes, even offering to help care for the young child of a former student. His peers always speak highly of him, especially the lovely Giulia, who fascinates Emilio. He serves as role model to his son, who undoubtedly envies his fathers’ success.
In the movie, Emilio attends one of his father’s lectures just to admire him read-aloud French poetry to his students. Furthermore, what Emilio lacks in social skills, he makes up for by living bi-curiously through his father. One such example includes the scene where instead of joining them, Emilio takes pictures of Giulia (Laura Morante) and her lover Sandro (Vanni Corbellini) enjoying a beautiful day in the backyard with Dario. Emilio later finds out from Giulia that his father has been making sarcastic remarks in regards to Emilio’s lack of social skills, particularly when it comes to romance.
A low blow to Emilio’s self-esteem, although he seems to ignore the criticism. Nevertheless such a comment foreshadows the degradation of respect between the father and son as the film progresses. Its important to note that Dario starts off portraying somewhat of a political ignorance, seeing as he barely pays attention to the ongoing political crisis Italy suffers. He even gets defensive when Emilio brings up the topic of his previous militia involvement based off an old photo he came across with Sandro, who hailed Dario for his time spent as an arms man.
First impressions of Dario depict him as a man who seems to have his head in the right place. Following the aftermath of the Red Brigades attack however, the viewers are thrown off with his proceeding actions. No one, not even Emilio, is left knowing what to think. The question of Dario’s innocence arises, as Emilio sets out to discover the truth behind his father’s intentions. The prominent young protagonist in the movie, Emilio, undergoes a dramatic emotional transformation as his family life goes from bittersweet to dysfunction.
His father Dario, the man he admired above all others, the mentor that pushed him academically and raised him righteously, was now characterized as a man of deception and irresponsibility. Not long ago, Emilio was fixing his father’s old childhood toys in an effort to gain his appreciation, and today he was spying and taking photographs of Giulia — now classified as a wanted fugitive by local authorities – talking with his father at the university in secret. The once reserved, non-confrontational Emilio now jumps to negative conclusions without second-guessing.
He decides to leave the photo on his father’s desk before running away from home, thus implicitly accusing the father of collaborating with the terrorists. Dario finds his son and angrily confronts him with the photograph. Emilio still manages to stand his ground, strongly advising that his father best tell Giulia to turn herself in, believing that his is putting their family at stake. Dario claims that the reason for their meeting was preciously in regards to that, assuring Emilio that the situation has been resolved. Emilio does not buy it for a minute.
His loyalty to his father dissolves as he continues to shun Dario, who feels as though the whole thing is just a jealousy-driven attempt by Emilio to gain more affection from his father. Under his impressions, Dario apologizes to his son for his lack of proper parenting skills, and promises to change to suit Emilio’s ideals. Despite the heart-felt speech, Dario’s promises were useless and irrelevant towards Emilio’s prerogative for truth and justice. Emilio’s distrust for his father led him to believe that the whole conversation was just an indirect bribe to stir him off course.
Regardless, Emilio stuck with his gut feeling long enough to discover Dario’s continuous deceit. It was then that Emilio knew, that for the sake of his community and his own family, something had to be done. So in the conclusion, Dario secretly brings Giulia a train ticket so she can leave the country with her child, but before she is able to escape, the police burst into the apartment and arrest her and Dario. The final scene then cuts to Emilio, who clearly served as the informant, walking away into the distance.
Who would have thought that the shy, non-confrontational, reserved boy introduced at the beginning of the film sharing laughs with his father would be the driving force that ultimately led to the dramatic conclusion to this story. As Emilio watched the police arrest the man he once valued so dearly, he did not shed a tear having grown numb to his father. The ending of the film signifies just how intense terrorism’s effects can take hold of someone’s mentality. In this case, enough to cause someone to go against everything they’ve ever known. This is not a political story.
This is a story about morality and maturation that ends in the surprise role reversal of Dario and Emilio. What happened in his movie has and can happen to families, close friends, and community members who turn on each other and trade into the “every man for himself” concept. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks are still happening today. Which is why there is a lesson to be learned from this film. No matter who we may trust, it is important to remember that our morals guide us, and the consequences that follow our moral-driven actions should be understood and accepted.