Suddenly Last Winter AKA Improvvisamente, l'Inverno Scorso
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (23rd June 2010).
The Film

Suddenly Last Winter (Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi, 2008)


This Italian documentary was produced by two ‘citizen journalists’, Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi. A gay couple who live in Rome, Hofer and Ragazzi decided to document the post-Berlusconi Italian government’s attempts to introduce the DICO (Diritti e doveri delle persone stabilmente conviventi, which broadly translates as ‘Rights for people cohabiting in a stable relationship’), which would allow for two adults to form civil partnerships, giving them the same legal rights as married couples.

The DICO was first proposed after the defeat of Silvo Berlusconi’s centre-right government in 2006, when power in Italy was seized by the centre-left coalition L’Unione (‘The Union’), headed by Romano Prodi. After the first draft of the DICO was rejected by the Italian government, Gustav Hofer decided to make a documentary about Italy’s response to this issue.

After a semi-comic introduction to Gustav and Luca's lifestyle (discussed in more detail below), which subtly undermines stereotypes associated with homosexuality, the documentary proper begins with a series of ad hoc street-level ‘vox pops’ focusing on the Italian public’s response towards the DICOs and their general attitudes towards homosexuality, which the footage here suggests is underpinned by a decidedly reactionary worldview: ‘if you’re born pure, you don’t have to die impure’, one Italian woman notes. Luca and Gustav acknowledge that the public's responses to their questions are shocking to them: ‘We truly live in a microcosm of our own, protected by our friends and relatives, and it’s merely an illusion’, Luca observes.


As an example of what is now frequently called ‘citizen journalism’, Suddenly Last Winter displays the conventions of that particular brand of reportage, consisting of much footage shot guerrilla-style: at a pro-DICO demonstration in Rome’s Piazza Farnese; a rally by members of the Militia Christi movement (a Catholic political movement that has spoken against the DICO legislation); an anti-DICO protest by the right-wing group Trifoglio; and a celebration of ‘the right to be secular’ at the Piazza Navona. The documentary also includes a number of ad hoc ‘vox pops’, with Hofer and Ragazzi questioning Italians about their attitudes towards the DICO and, more generally, towards homosexuality. Additionally, there are a number of intimate ‘video diary’-style scenes depicting Hofer and Ragazzi discussing the issue at home, and the documentary contains some formal interviews with a number of figures from Italian politics, including the co-author of the first draft of the DICO, Barbara Pollastrini.


As noted above, Suddenly Last Winter opens with an introduction to Hofer and Ragazzi, and a broad contextualisation of the issues presented in the bulk of the documentary, covering the collapse of the Berlusconi government and the election of Prodi's coalition, L'Unione. This introductory segment, which lasts for around ten minutes, is presented with a heavy dose of semi-ironic narration ('This is the story of Gustav and Luca; or Luca and Gustav, as their friends call them, because it sounds better that way'), and quite effectively delineates the fairly complex political context in which the debate over the DICOs took place.


This English language version of the documentary features an intermittent narration in English (delivered by Frank Dabell), whereas the Italian version of the documentary (Improvvisamente, l'Inverno Scorso) featured an Italian narrator (Veronica Pivetti), and it is unclear as to whether the introductory sequence mentioned above has been added to the English language version, to introduce English speaking audiences to the political climate within Italy: its presence in the Italian version would surely seem redundant to the majority of Italian viewers. It is also unclear as to how much the English narration differs from the narration in the Italian version of the documentary, in both tone and content: in this English language version of the documentary, narrated passages recur infrequently throughout the film, contextualising debates and introducing key figures within the Italian political climate; but the narration arguably has the effect of fragmenting the narrative of Hofer’s footage, for example curtailing the interesting footage of the pro-DICO demonstration at the Piazza Farnese. The ironic tone of the English narration also arguably has the effect of negating Hofer and Ragazzi's authorship of the documentary: the (frequently sarcastic) 'voice' of this documentary, at least in the English version, seems guided by the narrator rather than by Gustav and Luca, and in fact at the outset the narrator claims authorship of the film: within the first few minutes, the narrator asserts 'I have decided to tell you this story because lots of things have been happening to [Gustav and Luca], and thanks to them, in the last year or so'.


These quibbles over the narration in this English version aside, Hofer and Ragazzi's documentary offers a fascinating examination of the tensions between Italy's Catholic past and the left-wing leanings of the post-Berlusconi government; the suggestion (made overtly on a number of occasions, and most directly in the footage of the 'right to be secular' demonstration at the Piazza Navona) is that only when Italy unshackles itself from its Catholic heritage can it hope to progress socially. The aggressive and occasionally bizarrely-expressed homophobia demonstrated by both the Italian public and, more overtly, by a number of Italian politicians (most notably on footage shown early in the film of a debate on an Italian television talk show) is likely to be quite shocking for many viewers and seems to come from another era: the discourse of the politicians on the political right frequently conflates homosexuality with incest and paedophilia, and at the anti-DICO protest by Trifoglio, one of the speakers declares ‘DICO, abortion, paedophilia. This is a Europe of Freemasons!’ Elsewhere, at the demonstration by members of the Militia Christi movement, an interviewee claims that ‘it’s psychological abuse’ for a child to be raised by gay parents: the interviewee asserts that ‘It’s simply a perversion, it goes against nature’, describing the scenario as ‘a situation of unnatural violence against his [the child's] innocent soul’. Again, these attitudes are, within the documentary, linked explicitly to Italy's Catholic past: Franco Grillini, a member of the Italian parliament for the New Socialists, tells Hofer that ‘Knowing the Catholic Church, Italian politics and the political culture that exists in Italy, that ranges from clerical fascism to Catholic Communism, I’m not surprised by this homophobic reaction, this actual racism’.


Alongside the political debate surrounding the DICOs, another more personal narrative gradually emerges within the documentary: as the film progresses, Hofer increasingly drags Ragazzi – who initially expresses no interest in being a part of Hofer's project – into the documentary almost against his will. Things come to a head when Hofer makes Ragazzi enter a church; Ragazzi expresses his dislike of churches and explains that he has avoided them for most of his life. As Ragazzi observes after the Trifoglio incident, ‘Where do you take me out? Take me to the theatre, to grab a pizza, not to fascist demonstrations’. Hofer's attempts to strongarm Ragazzi into appearing in the documentary, and interview a number of aggressive right wing personalities, causes arguments between the two when, just before Family Day, Luca declares ‘For two months you’ve been making me hang out with those lunatics. I spent 35 years without going into a church. Now I have to go there to do what? I feel sick! [….] They surround us everyday. They say the same things, like broken records, poor things. They always say the same things. I can tell you what they’re going to say’.

The documentary runs for 78:54 mins (PAL) and is uncut.


Suddenly Last Winter is presented in a screen ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The documentary was mostly shot guerrilla-style, with a handheld digital video camera, and as such has an aesthetic that could best be described as rough-and-ready. There are no issues with the transfer on this DVD.



The film is presented with a two-channel stereo track. Again, as noted above, the guerrilla-style approach to filming this documentary means that the soundtrack is never ‘showy’. The English narration is clear enough, and the Italian dialogue is presented with burnt-in English subtitles.


There are no extras whatsoever.


Suddenly Last Winter is an interesting and enlightening documentary. The film deals with some complex issues and is, at times, eye-opening, especially in regard to the Italian public’s general attitudes towards homosexuality. The English language narration is arguably detrimental to the film, inasmuch as it guides the documentary a little too much and detracts from Hofer and Ragazzi’s authorship of the film. However, the English narration also offers some important information that contextualises the issues discussed in the footage shot by Hofer. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that we are unable to see the original Italian version of this documentary; it would have been interesting to compare both versions of the film.

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The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:


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