A Life in Red: The Story of Luciana Castellina

by Tommaso Trillò

On June 17th, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted a screening of A Life in Red, directed by Andrea Segre and jointly written with the protagonist Luciana Castellina. The film is a homage to the incredible life of Castellina, one of the most active and independent minded figures in the Italian political life after World War II.

Born and raised during the Fascist Era, Castellina’s political formation took part in the early aftermath of World War II. In the years 1946-47 she joined several different youth intellectual circles both in Italy and abroad. In this same period, she started to engage directly with service for the community, and directly experienced the hardship of manual labor.

The combination of these two experiences brought her close to the communist ideal. In 1948 she joined the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Castellina’s early years in the PCI were a time of strong activism, in which she stood for women rights and engaged in initiatives for the education of the working class. During this period, she emerged as a prominent figure within the party, despite her bourgeois origin. A radical change in her political life came in 1968, following the events of the Prague Spring.

Disappointment with the official party line vis-à-vis the events led her and others to found the journal “Il Manifesto”, in which such disappointment was expressed. This act of rebellion was punished with the expulsion from the party, despite the high rank occupied from her and others who joined the journal. Readmission came only in 1985, when the PCI had detached itself from the Soviet Union and the political turmoil of the 70s was well behind.

Again in a high party position, Castellina lived the last years of the PCI. In 1991-91, she strongly opposed the change in name and then the dissolution of the party itself. In her vision, communism as an ideal could not collapse with the collapse of the Soviet Union; there were still battles to be fought. After 1992, she engaged in the political arena going in and out of several different offspring-parties emerged from the former PCI, and lastly decided to abandon politics and to take direct action through different community-oriented groups.

Product of a very intense collaboration between the protagonist and the director, the movie is more than a cold account of Castellina’s political life. Rather, the film brings up a broader portrait of Castellina’s unique vision of life, in which direct engagement is absolutely fundamental and the community is always more important than the individual.

Discussion followed the screening, in which Castellina and Segre answered questions on the movie and on their vision of current socio-political events.