Film Reviews

REVIEW: What is Left?

Hot Docs 2014

What is Left?
Italy, 74 min.
Directed by Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi
Programme: World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa might tilt to the southeast, but whether it leans to the left or to the right is a question of perspective. Filmmakers Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi interrogate the state of Italian politics in the idiosyncratic political doc What is Left?, which brings them back to Hot Docs after their 2012 hit Italy: Love It or Leave It. This wildly entertaining interrogation of contemporary politics brings the couple/filmmakers to the streets where they pick the noodles of fellow Italians.

A good argument usually begins with a definition, but Hofer and Ragazzi cannot seem to make sense of Italian politics because the Left no longer resembles what it used to be. The filmmakers, amidst interviews with their peers, chart the evolution/regression of Italian politics by retracing their own progress as politically enlightened citizens. Ragazzi speaks of his upbringing in a Communist family at a time when Italy had the strongest Communist party in Europe. Gustave, on the other hand, tells of a sheltered childhood in a mountain town. What is Left? looks at the lopsidedness of partisan pathways as the filmmakers lead liberal lifestyles by attending marches, buying recycled toilet paper and debating policy, but lack a compelling party for their votes.

The film challenges the filmmakers’ need to define their politics by engaging them in episodes of a mock game show called “What is Left?” The game asks each player a series of true or false questions about various political matters. The filmmakers, opinionated as they are, defy the beleaguered hostess and respond with lengthy essays. These interludes illustrate the difficulty in reducing complex ideas into convenient binaries.

The film’s narration, by the Left herself (voiced by Lucia Mascino), is equally enlightening and amusing. The Left drolly observes the couple’s behaviour and she comments dryly on Italy’s political history. Her narration calls things into question and she uses humour to challenge the status quo. The Left, then, as illustrated by the narration and the game show, is the process of challenging and debating present circumstances in hopes of finding a progressive common ground. The liberal humour of What is Left? brings an enlightened spirit to the screen.

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Pat Mullen is POV’s Associate Online Editor, etc. He covers film at Cinemablographer.com, and has contributed to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, BeatRoute, Modern Times Review, and Documentary magazine and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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