Suddenly, Last Winter

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Venue: Festival of Mediterranean Film (Split, Croatia)

SPLIT -- Gay marriage has proved a hot-button topic in many countries of late, but the genial documentary “Suddenly, Last Winter” (“Improvvisamente, l’inverno scorso”), which examines the phenomenon from an up-close-and-very-personal Italian perspective, isn’t likely to ignite much controversy. A natural for festivals favoring gay/lesbian themes or current politics issues, the low-budget polemic’s digital-video look, easygoing tone and surface-skimming approach to complex material suggest a long-term home on the small screen.

Its title a somewhat cumbersome allusion to Tennessee Williams’ homophobia-indicting 1958 play “Suddenly, Last Winter.” The film chronicles how Italy’s recent center-left government tried to pass legislation allowing “civil partnership” between cohabiting couples -- such as multi-tasking film-makers Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi. Such a move isn’t easy in a nation where, partly thanks to the Catholic church, “traditional” values still hold sway. Indeed, one commentator reckons compares the Vatican’s input into Italian political life with the situation in Islamic theocracies.

This is one of several broader, tricky questions which the film raises about the Italian political landscape, a terrain where middle-ground between vociferously opposing factions proves distressingly elusive. That said, “Suddenly, Last Winter” gives excessive screen-time to those in the “anti” camp (during vox-pops, hardly any Roman passer-by seems anything other than hostile to government proposals). In interviews with politicians, meanwhile, the directors are content to let them state their piece without interruption or questioning.

The movie works best when Hofer and Ragazzi themselves take center-stage, the former evidently the prime-mover in the project, his partner an often-unwilling sidekick. This difference of enthusiasm produces a degree of friction in what’s initially such a lovey-dovey relationship, though we never remotely fear any kind of break-up. The fate of the government’s legislation, however, is much less predictable, making it all the more frustrating when, rather than ending on a note of definitive resolution, the film-makers opt for a rather cutesy coda which sarcastically imagines a happier world 25 years hence. Then again, given the ever-turbulent maelstrom that is Italian politics, who can know when it’s safe to say “cut?”

Directors: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi. Screenwriters: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi.
Executive producer: Maria Teresa Tringali. Producer: “hiq productions” (Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi.) Directors of photography: Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi. Editor: Desideria Rayner. Sales agent: hiq productions, Rome
No rating, 79 minutes.

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