Ghosts of a rebellious past linger in this well-intentioned, yet inconsistent political drama.
How do you escape a past which defined an era? That is one of the many probing questions asked by debutant feature director Annarita Zambrano, with her Un Certain Regard contender, After the War (Dopo la guerra). Analytic in argument and aura, this is a worthy if bumpy examination of politics, rebellion, and aftermath, which although compelling, feels incomplete.
Separated into two integral – and later intertwining – strands, we open in Bologna, 2002. A judge is assassinated by a group inspired by the original Brigate Rosse, which reopens old wounds between Italy and France. Marco (Giuseppe Battiston), a former left-wing activist, sentenced for murder and exiled in France for 20 years, thanks to the Mitterrand doctrine, is accused of having ordered the attack.
When the Italian government requests his extradition, Marco is forced to flee with Viola (Charlotte Cétaire), his 16 year-old daughter, hiding out in a remote house in a wooded coastal area far away from Paris. Meanwhile, Marco’s native family, who still reside in Italia, are forced to feel the lingering pressures of such relation; plentiful eyes staring, professional relationships waining. Despite having emotionally distanced themselves from the estranged black sheep, his seeming involvement in this crime places a heavy, unfair burden.
There is something refreshing about After the War‘s thematic blueprint: it is a legislative and legal tale, without ever fully fixating on such notions. Zambrano’s primary focus here is ordinary people, who are suddenly placed in an extraordinary situation. Viola attends school, plays volleyball, and enjoys socialising, and with a finger-snap, she is a fugitive; her father’s head wanted by a nation, his face plastered upon newspapers and magazines. Her world transforms quicker than she can clear the opposition’s net. It is an admirable approach, and one which pays dividends for character detailing. However, that also means aesthetically, the project has a particularly televisual quality.
Very few scenes feel cinematic, despite the enriching landscape of potential at Zambrano and co-writer Delphine Agut’s disposal. We are largely restrained to tight, dimly-lit sets, which although bear a certain ambience, ultimately lack urgency. For people in a constant state of peril, rarely are the audience granted the chance to share such anxieties. The dialogue ticks along nicely, and with an agile runtime of 93 minutes, few opportunities for meandering are available, but there’s still an undeniable sense of “something’s missing” lingering amidst the heated atmosphere.
For an inaugural offering, After the War is pretty accomplished; with dense themes lightened by focal characterisation, and profound subtext of our complicated political landscape within Europe right now, Zambrano’s strand entry is coy and reflective. A shame then, that its craft just lacks clout; screening like two episodes rather than one comprehensive cinematic study.