With its climate, culture, style, and food, Italy can seem heavenly. But Bill Emmott’s entertaining and informative documentary Girlfriend in a Coma points out that all is not so rosy for modern Italy, in fact the country has very severe problems indeed.
If you love Italy very much, you could say that the country is a girlfriend, and if so, and if you’re a Morrissey fan, you’d have to say that girlfriend is in a coma. Honestly, the whole girlfriend in a coma thing doesn’t make sense a whole lot of sense, or Emmott doesn’t explain it very well at least. But this doesn’t matter because he provides a very lucid and thorough overview of the current political, social and economic woes of a country we can all agree it is easy to be fond of.
Being a country of so many cultural riches, it is only natural that Emmett uses these to illustrate his point. Principally he turns to Dante for his central metaphor that there is a bad (or infernal Italy) and a good (or paradisical one). Benedict Cumberbatch provides resonant readings from the Florentine poet’s work. Although Morrissey is well known for the wide ranging allusions, but I’m not sure if Dante is one of these.
An Italophile, Emmott is a former editor-in-chief of The Economist and a long time follower of the country’s fortunes (there is a book to accompany the documentary Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy must conquer its demons to face the future). He doesn’t just know a lot about the place, but he’s also motivated by a righteous indignation that illuminates the story. It turns out this fury is justified.
If you just thought that the Greek economy was Europe’s most pressing financial concern, or that Berlusconi was merely a buffoon, be prepared to be disabused. Emmott makes it clear just how bad the situation really is. At present, Italy is in a truly woeful state. It makes the UK parliament’s expenses scandal and banking meltdown seem relatively small scale.
Facts, figures, and an impressive array of talking heads are marshalled to illustrate this. We learn that the economy is ailing (mind-boggling levels of debt) and society moribund (women fair particularly badly in Italy), and this is unlikely to be fixed by the “football stadium politics” or the hyper-partisanship that characterises their parliamentary system.
It’s all rather depressing, and that’s before we’ve even got to the mafia who are bleeding the country drier than an ancient Roman amphora. There is a lot to take in. Luckily Emmott presents his case in an entertaining fashion. The film is directed by Annalisa Piras who included plenty of satirical animation by Phoebe Boswell, a very inventive timeline, and illuminating comparisons with other countries. Even better, Emmott doesn’t let his serious points or obvious intelligence prevent him from gently sending himself up.
Just when we might have thought we were stuck in a hellish phantasm of depressing analysis, our Virgil, leads us to that happy land, with a the signs of hope shown in Good Italy. Phew. Perhaps the country isn’t doomed after all. And thank goodness because it has the fourth largest economy in Europe.
Girlfriend in a Coma may have a slightly silly title, but it provides a fascinating insight into a country that is crucial to all our futures and has given the world such cultural riches that we all have an interest in its prosperity. The only slight issue with the film is that it covers so much in its 103 minutes that you may not just want to watch it again, but need to. The good thing is, you probably won’t mind that at all.