Italy - Love It or Leave It is a bright looking travelogue that's equal parts funny and sad and follows along as directors Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer criss-cross Italy by road. They're a handsome and often adorable couple in the process of an extended debate over leaving Italy for more hospitable climates. Or at least the cheaper rents of Berlin. They seem to agree on the downsides of Berlusconi's Italy but not on the key question of should they stay or should they go. Their argument travels with them as they motor across the nation in a collection of vintage Fiats.
The film begins as the pair are packing up their Rome apartment. It's a crossroads for them as Gustav argues in favor of a move to Berlin where rents are 1/3 the price of Rome. Many of their friends have already left for parts far and wide. Luca convinces Gustav to give him one last shot to convince him of the values of Italy via a six month tour. Piling into a small vintage car they head out to reacquaint themselves with what makes Italy great. Stops include a Fiat factory (where we learn Europe doesn't have perfect working conditions for everyone), the shuttered manufacturing plant for a famous coffee pot maker (since relocated to Romania), mafia controlled towns, illegal toxic waste dumps, corrupt and unfinished major construction projects, and George Clooney's house. Not the easiest sell to Gustav it turns out. Due to the cinematography and Italy's raw beauty the ugliness of the stories are contrasted powerfully by the travelogue's visual appeal. Even as we learn that should Clooney venture into the lake his famous retreat looks out upon he'd literally be swimming in the shit of the Italian people.
The message that's hard not to take away from the presentation style is that on the surface everything looks gorgeous in Italy. But there's a rot underway making its way through the nation's core. Shot in the waning days of the Burlusconi administration there's are both political and cultural concerns being aired throughout the film. Folks trying to make a difference are well highlighted at each stop, and on a few occasions the pair get out of the car to argue/speak with some rather colorful characters. In the course of the film a lot of ground is covered educationally speaking about Italy. Its politics, high unemployment, the casual corruption that results in project after project laying uncompleted in the South - just to name a few. Not to mention a fascinating bit about how the Italian media has
Imagery is bright and colorful and mixes present day Italy with archival footage. Around midway through I began to wonder if they'd be able to pull it all together into a compelling narrative. Or if the pair will just spend 75 minutes crapping on Italy. I'm still not 100% sure there is a linear narrative arc at work, though the ride was interesting enough for me not to greatly care.
Luca speaks consistently about his goal to convince Gustav about the good of Italy. But you've got to wonder at points how Luca manages to convince himself. That last thought spent a lot of time competing in my head with a related question - Could you make this movie anywhere about any country? Most countries are far from the perfection pictured by nationalist cheerleaders. A day after seeing the film though I began to realize this broad a universality to Luca and Gustav's challenge. Struggle between things the they love and the things they hate about their nation and how to deal may be more familiar than it seemed at first blush. The fact that some people here could talk of a Sarah Palin or Gingrich presidency without laughter is enough to make me stop and contemplate similar what-ifs as well.
If you're gonna be at SXSW I'd encourage seeing if you can fit in Italy - Love It Or Leave It. In a fest biased towards American indies some international flavor is good for the soul. It's near impossible to not enjoy the protagonists and their unique spin on the travel documentary mashed up with their take on the Italian dream. A lot of the problems uncovered by the pair are familiar to those paying attention to the world economy the last decade or so. But it's still a very engaging way to spend 75 minutes. Got to assume the post-film Q&A will be great as well.