Italy: Love it or Leave it? (2011)

3 Sep

For those who cringe at the very real possibility that Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, may make a return to government in 2013 (after three separate, and arguably disastrous, spells as Italy’s prime minister) Italy: Love it or Leave it is an argument in their favour, a damning portrait of Italy under Berlusconi, right before his 2011 resignation. Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer, whose previous documentary Suddenly, Last Winter profiled the attitudes of Italians toward the gay community, return with a film that is a more general criticism of modern-day Italy. After watching many of their friends leave the country for countries with more liberal climates, Gustav insists that he and his partner Luca should move to Berlin. Luca, however, is hesitant to leave, sentimental toward the history, mythology and beauty of Italy. They instead agree to spend six months driving around Italy to get to know the country better and to try to convince each other of their respective opinions.

Of course, this little pact is really the vehicle for the filmmaker’s to air their concerns about some of the modern Italian political climate – they visit a Fiat factory to find that the once iconic symbol of Italian automotive engineering now forces its workers to work extraordinary hours for no pay, with the threat of redundancy constantly hovering over them. One episode sees Luca and Gustav visiting George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como, where Gustav reveals that 30% of all Italian sewerage ends up in the country’s lakes and waters. “Poor George, is he swimming in Italian shit?” asks Luca, only to be informed by Gustav that the council passed a law that bans swimming in the famous lake. The garbage that piles up in Naples, the mafia, the “unfinished architecture” of Sicily (arising from corrupt government officials who accepted federal funds for buildings and absconded with the money part way through) and much more are all covered in the documentary.

These issues are in and of themselves quite interesting, but they are presented in a way which is extremely one-sided. Although Luca claims to be trying to convince Gustav that living in Italy is worthwhile, the film never actually gets around to formulating a decent argument as to the value of staying in a country where the political climate is so antithetical to someone’s beliefs. The few arguments that are made come not from Luca but from several of the people they interview – Nichi Vendola, the openly gay, Catholic, communist governor of Apalia declares that Italy “is a country that was reborn many times” and that there is always an opportunity for a newer, more socially-conscious Italy. However, these kinds of fleeting sentiments are inevitably crushed under the huge mountain of fatalism that the rest of the film constructs. This one-sided, uneven narrative ends up undermining the very issues they wish to highlight; instead of being a complex conversation about the many crises occuring in Italy, it mostly reads as a propaganda piece.


By Tessa Clews


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