Waking Italy Up: “Girlfriend in a Coma”

Girlfriend in a Come contemplates ‘the Berlusconi years’ – the cultural, economic and political malaise that has clouded over Italy’s last two decades. Like a page from The Economist, it is deeply intelligent, aesthetically sharp and funny. (See the trailer here.)

“This film . . . has something to offend every Italian,” Piras reflected. “On the one hand, [Italian viewers] say ‘It’s beautiful! But oh! It hurts! It hurts so much.’ Other people say, ‘Oh, thank God for it. Because it’s good to see ourselves reflected in a foreign mirror.’”

Emmott emphasised that Italy’s problems are staring America, Britain, China and Japan in the face, too – calcifying institutions, and narrowing avenues to privilege and power.

“The malaise of Italy is about privilege and interest groups blocking the . . . arteries of a country, and congesting the flow of blood around the country that is necessary,” he said. “It’s as old a story as boy meets a girl. . . . It’s about society, and our ability to manage renovation.”

In Berlusconi, the filmmakers find the very symbol of power hoarding, corruption, debasement of women and encouragement of passivity that has seen Italy’s dynamism disappear, and its talent leave home –

“Everything that happened in my life in the last 17 years,” a creative designer who moved to London says in the movie, “as a woman, as an entrepreneur, as a mother, would have never happened in Italy.”

Piras’ frustration was palpable:

“When I left Italy 20 years ago, it was the ‘90s, and you had the entire political system wiped out [in the Clean Hands prosecutions of political corruption in the early 1990s] . . . And you thought, ‘God! Amazing that Italy can actually manage to do such a kind of peaceful revolution, and bring about a complete tabula rasa[blank slate]. . . . What came out of it? Silvio Berlusconi.”

Piras and Emmott hit several notes of optimism, however. They found inspiration in leaders from Italy’s past – Mazzini, Cavour, Garibaldi, and Einaudi – who exhibited a moral concern that seems absent today. Emmott found hope in Italy’s talent for vision, design and innovation, and also in its ‘family capitalism’:

“This strength of family business . . . at their best, they do make this longterm investment, and they have the connection with the community, and they do, take, I think, a socially responsible attitude. They are a marvelous example.”

In the film, Emmott tours a particularly humanistic home set up for the disabled by a rebellious Catholic priest, who overtook the building from a major crime family. Capturing the ethos of the film, and of the discussion afterwards, a disabled woman tells Emmott: “We need to build paths to free us.”

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Take part in Piras’ and Emmott’s interactive campaign to ‘wake Italy up’ here:  http://girlfriendinacoma.eu/