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film review

A scene from the documentary “Italy: Love it or Leave it”

Luca and Gustav are obliged to move out of their modest Roman apartment, which costs three times more than would a comparable flat in Berlin. Rents are high in Italy, as are unemployment and corruption and homophobia and fascist sympathies. No wonder so many of their young friends are emigrating to greener pastures in Europe's shaky union. Should they do the same? Such is the premise of this lively little doc, as the question hovers over the guys' six-month odyssey up and down the length of the boot. En route, the pressing reasons to Leave It compete with the abiding need to Love It, and the balance gets fairly weighed. Or maybe not – look closely and you just might see a thumb on the scale.

A southern Italian and a romantic behind his horn-rims, Luca is predisposed to stay; a northerner and a pragmatist beneath his curls, Gustav is all get up and go – he's already practising his German. Yes, they're the gay odd couple, hopping into a vintage Fiat 500 to begin their investigative journey. The first stop is the Fiat factory itself, once "a symbol of the economic boom." But now, according to a labourer chained to the assembly line, the job offers her nothing more than entry into the swollen ranks of the working poor – she can't live on the wage. Another stop at the Bialetti factory, maker of those iconic coffee pots, finds the place shuttered and empty. Seems that iconography has been outsourced to Romania.

On to the beauty of Lake Como, where George Clooney makes out when he's not making out in Hollywood. The lads politely ring at his villa's gate, but Signore Clooney isn't home. They leave a tiny Bialetti pot, and repair to gaze upon the lake, still glorious to the eye but not to the nose – the water has been badly polluted by dumped sewage. Gustav adds another check to his side of the ledger; Luca appears forlorn.

So it goes, with the pair zipping along the autostrade from one malaise to the next. Speaking of which, Silvio Berlusconi and his sexcapades inevitably come under scrutiny. A still photo catches him leering at Michelle Obama while Barack looks askance. Video clips from his many TV channels capture the presiding zeitgeist – middle-aged men in suits flanked by nubile young women in not much of anything. A female journalist complains about the misogyny. For his part, Luca shrugs as only a Luca can, and neatly sums up the reaction to Berlusconi's extracurricular activities: "Italians are either embarrassed or aroused."

Further along, in Mussolini's birthplace of Predappio, the aged owner of a souvenir shop proudly hawks shelves-full of fascist memorabilia. As footage shows the newly elected mayor of Rome being greeted by his supporters with a stiff-armed salute, the boys sadly concede that a brown-shirt mentality "is making a comeback in Italy." The Mafia, however, never left. Two of their present-day victims are interviewed: a farmer who refused to pay protection money, and a politician with the naive idea that laws should be enforced. In each case, threats were issued, their cars were torched, and their neighbours were unhappy: Taking a dim view of heroic resistance, the local community prefers to let sleeping mobsters lie.

Way down in Sicily, a single town stands as a literal monument to rampant corruption. Dotting the landscape is a series of modern ruins nestled beside their ancient equivalents – a dozen or so half-completed projects, half-built with public money, including European Union funds. Seems the contractors took the bucks, threw up some concrete pillars, then left with no intention of finishing the job. The "Polo Stadium" is the crown jewel of the scams – a non-functioning stadium for the region's non-existent polo players.

As you might have guessed by now, the trip and the doc alike are, well, so Italian – frustrating and unstructured, yet charming and convivial too. In the end, with the scale heavily tilted, we see the guys in their new apartment, the boxes still unpacked and the camera gliding toward the open window to ratchet up the suspense. What's that glimpsed outside? Is it the Coliseum or the Brandenburg Gate? Did Love trump Leave, did passion outweigh logic? Gustav makes a face; Luca makes a joke; fade to black and they both make an exit.

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