Most people from outside of Europe would have a rather romanticised view of Italy. It’s a beautiful country – the stuff of postcards – steeped in a heady mix of culture, art and history, not to mention a must-visit destination for good food, wine and coffee. But the reality is far more sobering, as we learn from two Italian born and bred filmmakers in Italy: Love It Or Leave It.

The pair is actually real-life couple Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, the former born in the north and educated abroad, while the latter lived and was educated in Rome. When they are faced with eviction they soon question whether to stay in their Roman apartment or to follow in the footsteps of their friends and flea the country. For them, Italy is full of past glories, is facing future uncertainty and a rather tumultuous present.

They decide to give it six months and along the way them embark on a road trip in a fleet of old Fiat 500s to see if they can rekindle their love for the country they call home. Ragazzi champions the case for Italy while Hofer – the more sarcastic and cynical of the pair – has dreams of their new life in Berlin.

The trip is one that is off-the-beaten track and deliberately ignores the regular tourist traps of Florence and Venice in favour of places like: Puglia, Turin, Milan, Calabria and Naples. It is through these stops that they can offer a travelogue that brims with heart and soul as personal and political worlds and ideologies collide.

The tone of the documentary is a rather light one even though they tackle serious issues like the redundancies of staff at the Fiat car and Bialetti coffee machine factories; the environmental impacts of waste disposal systems gone awry thanks to organised crime; gay rights and the lack thereof; and the rife sexism in the press. The backdrop is also the then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s sex scandal and the subsequent fall-out from this.

The scenes of Italy are idyllic and picturesque and these provide an interesting contrast between the more sombre storytelling. Italy it seems is all about putting on a good show. Lake Como – where George Clooney has a villa for instance – is positively gorgeous but polluted with sewerage.

The directors also choose to speak with many interesting characters that are colourful and full of candour. But the film does occasionally misfire in its execution because it often feels like a series of separate vignettes, lacking a cohesive feel, bar for the fact that they are issues the two find worthy of exploration.

A combination of new footage is shown alongside some archive material. When this is combined with a tongue-in-cheek approach to the important political and social issues, this lends the proceedings a feel that is similar to a Michael Moore exposé but with fewer concrete facts to back-up the argument. But what it also has in common with Moore’s work is in its ability to provoke feelings of disgust and even laughter at the absurdity of the situations (take for instance Sicily with so many half-built structures it’s almost like it has its own form of architecture).

Italy: Love It Or Leave It is ultimately a worthwhile trip where two intelligent, cool and handsome men explore the love/hate relationship they share with their home in an upbeat and fun way. By sidestepping past the clichés and along a road less travelled our protagonists offer an enjoyable mash-up of old and new Italy. It’s one that’s full of contradictions and is on the precipice of change- much like a number of other countries facing the same economic and social pressures. If nothing else this documentary will open up our eyes to the fact that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and even then, it could just be to keep up appearances.

Review score: 4 stars

Originally published on 9 September 2012 at the following website:

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