Hot Docs: What is Left [Gustav Hofer, Luca Ragazzi, 2014]

what is left

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes something along the line of “if things go south for long and far enough, they will become alright again”. That is, of course, NOT the main message of this documentary. But it is something that frequently dashed into my mind when I was watching this. That, and Animal Crackers. Warning: the L-word will be used many times below…

“What is Left” is an entirely sincere (and completely meta/hipster) annual physical exam on the health of the leftist faction of the Italian political and societal structure. To make a complicated story short, it’s not a rosy picture. In February 2013, the center-left party Partito Democratico was decimated in the general election. In the controlled chaos that followed, the power vacuum left by former party leaders was eagerly consumed, while the idealogical vacuum imploded into a black hole when the party swallowed every notion of the intellectual Left in order to hold itself together by popularity. It eventually enlisted the help of the center-right to form a coalition government. All this left the plebs feeling very left-out and confused. Hofer and Ragazzi took on the dual tasks of reaffirming as well as rediscovering what it means to be Left, mainly through interviews with politicians and¬†political leaders mixed wth their own reflections as children of the leftist movement.

First of all, I have to apologize if I misunderstood the undercurrents. I thought of Animal Crackers throughout the film not because the whole political scene in Italy resembled a farce, but because facts and ideas (distorted or otherwise) were flying at me like one-timers just like jokes and one-liners flew by one’s ears in the Marx Brothers’ flick. It is incredibly difficult to sort through the ideological difference to even categorize “left” and “right”, let alone what is morally “right” and “wrong”. Not to mention the players, the history, everything is completely new to me. But the framework of what the filmmakers presented can resonate in North America. The Left, the Liberals, the Intellectuals. In many locales these previously synonymous terms are now so fragmented so as to lose their meaning, thereby sucking the steam from directly underneath the political engine. The Americans were once there, too. And then Obama came along. It’s ironic to see a “communist” (Ragazzi said he was brought up as one) marvel at a visionary leader in one frame, and in the next extol the merits of communal infrastructure and welfare. But even Obama left many people disenchanted and equally as many with renewed fervor. Perhaps the question isn’t “what is left”, since the umbrella term “left” can’t hold so many ideas on its two-dimensional axes anymore. So if not, where should these ideas go? Should you watch this so you can get just as confuzzled as I was when the credits rolled and the filmmakers serenade you with an English song? I think I’ll just leave that can of worms open and see who bites.

Scotiabank Theatre, Sunday May 4, 9:00 PM
Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs