Directed by Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi. PG. 75 min. Opens Jan. 25 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
If Woody Allen’s last film, To Rome With Love, reinforced all the romantic clichés about Italy, Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi’s witty documentary Italy: Love It or Leave It administers a sobering dose of reality. Far from a Latin idyll, the young Italian filmmakers live in a nation rife with high rents, high unemployment, political scandals, and rampant corruption. Lake Como is polluted, Naples is drowning in garbage, and fascist dictator Mussolini is enjoying a revival in popularity. It’s enough to make you pack up and leave, which is what Hofer wants to do. He has his sights set on Berlin, but partner Ragazzi, a born-and-bred Roman, is resisting. Bent on proving that there’s still hope amid Italy’s dysfunction, Ragazzi convinces Hofer to join him on an eye-opening cross-country road trip.
The quarrelling travellers, wedged into a tiny Fiat 500, are dryly amusing; at times they’re like an Italian version of Flight of the Conchords’ Bret and Jemaine. The film employs surreal animated sequences in a Terry Gilliam/Monty Python vein and summons up nostalgia via some kitschy vintage home movies. The lighthearted approach helps sweeten the sour impression that Italy is going down the toilet. As if the closed factories and derelict public buildings weren’t enough, there’s the egregious sexism and homophobia in politics and the media—not to mention the cult of then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The movie’s bizarre highlight is a confrontation with strident elderly Berlusconi supporters, which is freaky enough to belong in a Fellini film.
Of course, the same kind of documentary could be made about Greece or Portugal, or any of the other EU countries currently in dire straits. The strength of Ragazzi and Hofer’s film lies in its portraits of steadfast Italians who defy the country’s regressive tendencies—like Nichi Vendola, the gay, Catholic communist president of Apulia—and its argument that the land that gave us aqueducts, espresso, and Sophia Loren can’t simply be abandoned when the going gets tough.