REVIEW: DVD Release: Suddenly, Last Winter

Film: Suddenly, Last Winter
Release date: 7th June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 80 mins
Director: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi
Starring: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Network
Format: DVD
Country: Italy

In February 2007 the Italian government presented a draft law that acknowledged the legal rights of unmarried and gay couples, however, this was met with vitriol throughout the country.

Luca and Gustav are two arts journalists who have been in a gay relationship for eight years. Following the election of Prodi’s centre-left coalition at the 2006 election, they chart the progression of that party’s proposed laws that will allow them the same civil rights as heterosexual couples. However, with Prodi’s party neutered by their tiny majority, the DICO law, spelling out the rights for co-habitants, is quickly attacked by the right-wing authorities – the various conservative parties, and the Vatican, whose independent state nevertheless pushes to dictate the laws of Italy.

The impact of this lobbying from the elite upon the public, particularly the young, is demonstrated through various set-pieces such as the right-wing organised Family Day (their response to the DICO law), the aftermath of a church celebration, and Gay Pride 2007…

It is at these events, where the filmmakers confront those regular members of the public, that the film finds its feet. Beginning with a church celebration, Luca and Gustav take to the streets and find themselves amongst a swarm of young people with the groan of the Pope fresh in their ears. Asking why they are in opposition to their civil rights – Gustav, much to Luca’s later chagrin, is keen to reveal their well-established gay credentials – the filmmakers are met with frank and unrestrained admonishment of their sexuality. Outright telling them that their relationship is “against human nature,” what is curious about these exchanges is the way both the interviewers and their subjects seem oblivious to the reality of the situation. The latter appear to assume the two lovers (and presumably the homosexual population as a whole) will simply get over it, while Luca concludes that the two have been living in a protected “microcosm of our own…an illusion.”

This might go some way to explain the stylistic approach of the film’s opening sequence, which presents the domestic bliss of the couple in a horrible mash-up of YouTube-style video diary, a 1950s demonstrative service broadcast, and a child’s educational narrative. Obviously intended to create ironic comic effect, the sequence instead merely comes off as a gay version of The Simple Life, or any number of those American TV shows that cement the stereotype of a retarded nation, with library music blaring the obvious, explaining to the viewers how they should be feeling. This works well at one point of the movie, though, where a fascist march preceding the Family Day event is presented with impish B-movie sounds to match the spooky visuals - a genuine lynch mob marching with candles and flaming rolls of paper, the 20th century pitchforks and torches.

Elsewhere, other stylistic flourishes include presenting the corridors of power as a symmetrical, anonymous, labyrinth where symmetrical and anonymous politicians fade in and out of doorways to no conclusion at all. There’s an impressive sequence in which the two filmmakers sit on a couch watching the initial right-wing reaction to the DICO laws gain momentum, each view point added as a pixilated square running a border around the screen, until these video clips of intolerance finally squeeze the two out of the frame completely.

Which is ironic, since this is the main failure of the documentary. As Luca himself says of their opponents near the end of the film: “They say the same things. They’re broken records.” The viewer too is left similarly exasperated; surely after hearing the views of just five ‘nutters’ you don’t really need an hour more. The film seems to work on the basis of an assumed audience, one that is rational enough to reject those claims that the DICO laws will lead to the “extinction of society”, and those recalling “the fall of the Roman Empire” (!), and, as such, hardly any lucid counter arguments are put forward against these sentiments. It seems the filmmakers are taking the approach of presenting the homophobia prevalent in Italy with the intention of embarrassing their leaders into action (the English language narration perhaps lending support to this aim).

Since the counter is so poorly presented, it is with the relationship of the filmmakers themselves that we find any interest in what could have otherwise been a mere news reel. Gustav’s increasing bravado as the homophobia becomes more intense, and he refuses to back down, and Luca’s converse reticence as the events heat up. One exchange between the two sums up their attitudes perfectly, when Luca argues that “you should be careful saying we’re a couple,” and Gustav replies, “I want the right to say it in a square” - fascist fire branders be damned!

In all, this amateurish documentary from two professional journalists does have its charms, but ultimately fails to make its own case. For two filmmakers with so much at stake in the subject matter, they tend to take a voyeuristic approach to the debate rather than engaging in a manner that could be of any real help to their cause. JGZ

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