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Duo made movie on to be or not to be Italian

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

The Italians, dressed in light sweaters, smiled at the serenely composed espressos.

Around them, South by Southwesters thronged Caffe Medici on Congress Avenue during a break in Saturday's unseasonably cold rain. Yet Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, journalists, filmmakers and longtime boyfriends who live in Rome, found a tiny table near the front window.

Their documentary feature film sold out earlier at the Alamo at the Ritz. Here, they tug and pull at each other verbally, just as they do in "Italy: Love It or Leave It," which follows their road-trip quest to stay in Rome or move to a more socially, economically and politically appealing Berlin.

"We are pretty much like that," says Ragazzi, tall, dark, focused, deploying an arid wit. "We don't pretend."

"We would be very bad actors," agrees Hofer, open, extroverted, with dancing eyes that signal he always gets the joke.

"Italy," which explores the dilemma of youths stranded in the Silvio Berlusconi era, has already played festivals and won limited distribution in Europe, Africa and South America, scooping up audience favorite and best feature awards at the Milan Film Festival. With a light touch, they look at Italy's decaying industries, exploited farm workers, polluted lakes, sexualized television and divisive politics.

"People everywhere can identify with the movie," Hofer says. "Because it is so universal."

"There's a T-shirt that reads: ‘Life is too short not to be Italian,' " Ragazzi says. "That's the spirit of the film. We should learn to be patriotic, but nobody told us how."

According to the duo, who could double as a comedy team, Italian pride usually peaks during World Cup soccer.

"The rest of the time, they complain," Ragazzi says. "They are spoiled. They do nothing about it. They want a solution from the top."

Hofer previously made a movie about former President George W. Bush, "Bush Back Home," visiting his childhood haunts in Midland.

"Those people are bizarre, from our perspective," says Hofer, who encountered similarly unsettling behavior among Berlusconi supporters in Milan while filming "Italy." Speaking of which: "They say ‘We are the people of love, unable to hate,' but they are so aggressive."

In the movie, elderly Italian women berate a smiling Hofer, repeatedly and violently, as he asks: "Do you think young people have a future in Italy?"

The couple, who previously made a documentary about their relationship, think Berlusconi could come back, just as have admirers of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

"We are very close to everything crumbling," Ragazzi says. "When that happens, we make a U-turn. We are very good at managing emergencies."

Hofer: "It's a talent."

"Italy" made its North American debut at SXSW.

"We make films about things we care about," Ragazzi insists. "Like how to fall back in love with Italy."

Known almost exclusively by their first names back home, Hofer and Ragazzi have become, with their films, in some ways Italy's first official gay couple.

Hofer: "Dolce and Gabanna are made up."

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com