One of the biggest successes of the Hot Docs festival last year was the road trip film, Italy: Love It or Leave It, and for the life of me I can’t understand why every screening of it was sold out in advance. I can understand the appeal of ex-Pat Italians wanting to capture a lost sense of national identity and I can see base level documentary lovers who adore everything done by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock loving it, but even by those already rock bottom standards, this dreadfully twee and hamfistedly forced bit of tripe is a dire, life sucking experience that makes 75 minutes feel like six hours.
Youthful filmmakers Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi are facing eviction from their pricy big city apartment at the start. Gustav – the more pragmatic of the two from a small mountain town in the North – wants to take off from the country and join his friends who are thriving creatively and economically elsewhere. Luca – the laid back, hard hearted city dweller from birth – wants to stick it out. Together they embark on a six month road trip in a gleefully ancient looking FIAT 500 to ultimately decide whether they stay or they go.
The conceit gets shot in the foot right from the outset as Luca (who narrates the film in English) calls his own arrogant shot by telling the viewer that they need to watch to the very end of the film. It kind of proves that the film has only about five minutes of real emotional material and about 70 minutes of filler. It isn’t an even handed argument, since almost all of it is Luca trying to unsuccessfully get Gustav to admit that he really wants to stay, but both filmmakers are so petulant and rehearsed in their arguments that there’s not a single believable moment in the whole film. Everything feels so staged it could be ported almost word for word to the United States by subbing in Moore for Gustav and Spurlock for Luca and having them travel down Route 66. Absolutely nothing would change.
The very fact that his comparison even exists speaks to the film’s curious lack of a real national identity or viewpoint. It’s the same kind of infotainment it seeks to mock when it talks about the Italian media sensationalizing the Burlosconi sex scandal or objectifying women all the time. It’s meant to entertain, but neither man in front seems anything more than a mouthpiece railing against something they can’t even define. In that respect, it’s fine that Hofer and Ragazzi go the entertainment route, but to position themselves as people who think they have no future feels oddly congratulatory. They want to have no future and fill the outlying frame with somewhat decent stories about people with real problems – job loss, having to live under police protection from the mob, political leaders trying to make the country more progressive – so it will only look like their film has an ending.
Their frustrations are so forced, calculated, and obviously written that their blow ups at one another (one of which is cloyingly framed against the ocean as a backdrop) ring as hollow as their personas. These are guys who are trying so desperately to port some of the most pandering, mainstream North American documentary techniques to their own culture that it all reeks of another person’s flop sweat. They’re annoying unfunny people who have made a choppy, amateurish film that they seem to think is equal parts precious and insightful. They are creating a sense of nostalgia for a national identity they think is flawed, but they have no clue how to better it in the slightest or even what it really means to be Italian outside of loving great food, Fellini styled animation, and beautiful women.
Buried within this dreck is a great idea to look at people who want to stay in their home country and work within a fledgling economy, and particularly in Canada there are definitely people who could relate to that, but this risible, choppy, amateurish mess misses the point entirely when it paints a picture of country so obliquely that you don’t want to love it or leave it, but you wish the people at the heart of it would just shut up for two seconds to let actual people with actual problems talk about them. Sadly, that’s only about a quarter of this film. More often they waste time mucking about and trying to give villa owner George Clooney a new Italian coffee maker among other lame side quests. Clooney wasn’t available to accept the gift, so they left it behind. You should probably do the same with the film.