Rediscovering the soul of Italy
BY ANGELA BOSKOVITCH
With the never-ending Euro-crisis slashing state budgets, especially in research and education, Italians are again turning to life abroad as the answer. Despite the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in November last year, the country is ruled by an old political class more interested in serving their own interests than those of the public.
Shot in 2011, the film “Italy: Love It or Leave It” is as current as ever, documenting the journey of filmmakers Gustov Hofer and Luca Ragazzi as they travel their country from North to South. The film — which had its Egyptian premiere at the Ismailia Film Festival in June — attempts to understand Italy’s many contradictions, while revealing an active civil society whose engagement and talent may serve as the country’s best hope for a future that makes use of its human resources and creativity as it faces corruption, patriarchy and nepotism.
Frankfurt-based journalist Angela Boskovitch interviewed the directors for The Egypt Monocle.
Angela Boskovitch: It’s a topic that’s always in the news, how the young generation is forced to leave Italy. How did you turn this thorny, complex issue into a movie?
Gustov Hofer: We’re combining two issues. There are these people in our country who only view Italy’s glorious past, while there are others who just see this horrible world of Berlusconi. The starting point of the film was how fed up we were with how people thought everyone in Italy was like Berlusconi. We started shooting the first part of the film in January 2011 and it premiered September 15 at the Milan Film Festival where we won First Prize and the Audience Award. We were really worried about the reaction because we told a story which Italians know all too well. The challenge was to find a different way to tell the story. We’re both journalists, but we were looking to express our own point of view. When you’re a journalist you should be objective, but in this case…
Luca Ragazzi: It’s our journey.
AB: As someone with Sicilian heritage, the part of the film that really struck me was when Claudia d’Aita from the Festival of Unfinished Sicilian Architecture says in an interview that people are caught between shame and rage.
GH: The shame blocks the anger.
LR: They neutralize each other.
GH: I think this is why Italians never really reacted to what was happening. So many people from our generation would talk about how they were so ashamed of what Berlusconi was doing or the government was getting into, but because of their shame, no one really reacted.
LR: Watching our film today, it seems like Berlusconi resigned centuries ago, but it was something recent. It’s like people are waking up from the nightmare of what happened to our country.
GH: And Italians tend to forget and not really want to work on their past. The film also includes a part with a Mussolini supporter. During the Berlusconi period, it became okay to say you’re a fascist, while it was taboo to say you’re a communist. It was a total shift in values. And this is because we don’t work on our past. We say it’s finished and we don’t want to think about it.
AB: Isn’t that because Italy’s schizophrenic in a way?
GH: It’s a country full of contradictions. What happened over the past 10 years or so really made us focus on the bad sides of Italy and we’d forgotten that there’s another part of our country that has incredible strength and charm.
LR: And incredible passion and generosity.
GH: Many of us forgot about this. The media focused on Berlusconi for so long that they forgot about the country.
LR: At the end of the film, we met the monk Padre Fedele in Southern Italy who says that a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows. His abbey is in a hidden place on the top of a mountain not so far from the city of Bari, but still quite unknown.
GH: We found out about this place through a friend working with an Italian NGO charged with protecting the environment.
LR: There are only seven monks living there on the top of the mountain. Their space is open to the public and we went there for three days.
GH: If you go there, you’re really looking for something.
LR: Yes, and the funny thing is that it’s very close to San Giovanni Rotondo, the place of Padre Pio, which has become the market of spirituality, a kind of Las Vegas where so many buildings remain empty because of speculation.
AB: Many different people speak in this film. How did you decide whom to interview?
GH: We spent a year doing research. We travelled around the country before we shot the film following news items and found some stories on the way. We found Mary Epifania, the worker from Fiat, because we attended a demonstration for workers rights in Turin. We liked the idea of presenting a worker in a way you wouldn’t expect, as a young woman. Collectively we’ve forgotten about the existence of workers somehow.
LR: They exist and they’re exactly the same as before. Mary said the factories haven’t changed at all; even the toilets are the same ones since those years ago. Money is not invested in these famous Italian factories like Fiat.
GH: The challenge was to tell the human stories behind the numbers.
LR: With Rosarno it was the same. (Rosarno was the scene of rioting by foreign migrant workers in 2010 after two Africans were attacked).
GH: We chose not just to show the story, but someone who’s trying to improve the situation.
LR: Giuseppe Pugliese volunteers with the organization africalabria, bringing people food, water and medicine.
AB: But serious problems do persist, especially concerning organized crime. Why did you include the story of Ignazio Cutrò in his battle with the mafia?
LR: It was Gustov that forced me to go there. He wanted to show me this man who tried to be a hero in fighting the mafia and became the shame of the village instead.
GH: Ignazio was totally marginalized by the community because he reported on the mafia. My idea was to bring Luca there and introduce him to Ignazio so he’d agree with me that it’s better to just leave Italy, a country where things like this still happen.
LR: But this was a turning point. Because Gustov asks Ignazio why he decided not to leave Italy and Ignazio tells him that this is his home and he wants to stay. This code of silence, even in places like Sicily, is being broken with the new generation because they have the possibility to travel abroad.
AB: There’s another theme which runs through your film: patriarchy. Why did you have a segment on how Italian media portrays women?
LR: It’s incredible! The women on the news who are supposed to be journalists look like beauty queens.
GH: The role model for young women has become the Veline showgirl. For boys, it’s the football player. It was sold that you can have success easily and fast if you just have the right body and looks to get there. It has nothing to do with talent or merit. This is how Berlusconi media changed the mentality of young people. Berlusconi understands what the political Left in Italy did not. He never ignored mass culture because he knew you needed it if you wanted to win in Italian politics. It’s not the culture that we like, but it became the culture of the country. The sad thing is that Italy was far ahead of other countries in women’s rights in the 1970s, but we’ve moved backward very quickly. And this was aided by Berlusconi’s media culture.
LR: We’ve been swimming in a puddle for thirty years. Europe made progress while Italy didn’t.
GH: Because our country is run by the same old men who’ve been there since the end of the Second World War. They’re not interested in change.
AB: Despite all of this, the film reveals an active civil society addressing real problems.
GH: In Italy, the political parties live in an alternate reality so we need a strong civil society.
LR: They’re called La Casta, these politicians. It’s like the Russian oligarchy. The political class has become completely untouchable. We live in Rome and see their privileges every day. We don’t trust them at all, these MPs and politicians.
GH: And this is dangerous because there are some good politicians. It’s a risk for a democracy when the entire system seems invalid to the public. There are some good people in it, but it needs to be reshaped. Being a public servant in Italy has been lost.
AB: You spend a lot of time in the film in the South of Italy. Why?
GH: That was a choice because people in Italy think that it’s the North that’s the progressive, modern one where things work.
LR: Because it’s the richest.
GH: But when you think about what the North has produced over the last twenty years – it’s why we hate Italy today. It’s Berlusconismo!
LR: In Sicily or even Calabria or Puglia, you can find why Italy is loved around the world: Good food, beautiful weather, wonderful music, hospitality and generosity. Most of the Italians wandering around the world are Southern Italians. You don’t find this kind of hospitality in the North. Half of the film takes place in the South, but it’s stronger, more contemplative. The first half has more jokes and everything is fast.
GH: We’re playing with the glorious past of Italy in the North.
LR: And its clichés.
GH: We wanted to play with the icons which made Italy so famous, but don’t exist anymore: The Fiat workers function like it’s 50 years ago; hardly anyone goes to Rimini anymore, the city that became famous for the Latin lover; and even the moka coffee-makers are made abroad.
LR: Sophie Loren moved to Switzerland. Fellini’s dead. The glorious past is gone. Italians have to realize this.
AB: Is it the people you interviewed in the South who convinced you to stay in Italy?
LR: Yes, the people we met there – they said so many things to convince Gustov to stay.
GH: Especially the monk and the governor.
LR: Yes, Governor Nichi Vendola says there are a lot of reasons to leave, but if you climb the mountain, what you see from the very top is a beautiful country full of civilization. That’s why we climbed the mountain to the abbey. Also, the story of Ignazio Cutrò’s battle against the mafia was decisive. All of these stories changed Gustov’s point of view. For me it was always an obvious decision to stay.
GH: It’s resistance.
AB: And both of you feel this way?
GH & LR: Yes.
LR: Yes, but for me it was always obvious. I don’t want to quit. I did it when I was younger and moved to New York, but now I think the right thing to do is to stay.
GH: It’s also an exciting moment to be in Italy. One cycle has ended and we want to contribute.
LR: Now that we’re on the other side and not complaining anymore, we realize that there’s a good sign every day. And that makes us more optimistic. -The Egypt Monocle