In what could easily be called “Quo Vadis?,” Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi follow up their gay-centric “Suddenly, Last Winter” with “Italy Love It or Leave It,” a more general examination of Berlusconi’s Italy, posing the question of whether anyone should stay in a country that seems to have abandoned its future. Playful animation, droll exchanges between the helming couple and some spectacular vistas lighten what might have been a dreary catalogue of corrupt politics, social inertia, degraded morality and environmental neglect. Docu’s effervescent qualities could make it palatable to a wider-than-arthouse audience, but U.S. exposure likely will be limited.
For audiences to find out whether the pair remain in Italy, Ragazzi says at the outset, “You’ll have to watch the rest of the film,” which is hardly an onerous request. Both men — Ragazzi, a lifelong Roman, and Hofer, who grew up in the German-influenced Tyrol — are charmers, and their personal relationship and humor keep things buoyant.
Whether or not it’s to facilitate the narrative, the two have taken different sides on the question of relocation. Hofer is ready to move to Berlin in hopes of escaping Italian rents and what they both see as the country’s social disintegration; Ragazzi is less sure that Italy is unsalvageable, and sets out to convince Hofer they should stay. Thus are they launched on a zigzagging tour of the country, examining along the way such iconic symbols as a struggling Fiat plant, a shuttered Bialetti espresso-pot factory and George Clooney’s house on Lake Como, where the water, thanks to Italian policies on sewage, is unfit to swim in.
Elsewhere, Hofer and Ragazzi visit sites of corruption throughout the country; immigrant workers in the south who are virtual slave laborers; an old man who sells Fascist memorabilia and argues on behalf of Mussolini; several demonstrations on behalf of then-president Silvio Berlusconi, whose sexual antics have embarrassed Italians and whose ouster last November was thought by many to be long overdue. That the pro-Berlusconi protesters are old is obvious; that they are “paid extras,” as Ragazzi says, seem very possible. Much of the pic makes the point that, by keeping the old amused and in line, Berlusconi was able to undermine the traditions of Italian life to the point that the youth have little reason to stay.
Ragazzi argues on behalf of architecture and Sophia Loren. But as Hofer says, “We can’t stay for the Aqueduct. And Sophia Loren is 77 and lives in Switzerland.” On the more serious side, Ragazzi and Hofer look at Berlusconi’s influence in a manner that recalls Eric Gandini’s celebrated 2009 docu “Videocracy,” which posited that, with his network of TV stations replete with celebrity worship and underclad women, Berlusconi has had a devastating effect on Italians’ values and self-image. “Italy Love it or Leave it” re-emphasizes the point. But as Ragazzi says near the end of the film, as the camera adores yet another of the nation’s architectural wonders, you have to focus on the beautiful if you’re going to live in Italy.
Tech credits are tops, notably d.p. Michele Paradisi’s camerawork.