Controversial film on Italy’s ‘moral collapse’ comes to MMU after own government block screening

By Tui Benjamin

A controversial documentary on Italy’s shocking political and social decline is to be screened at Manchester Metropolitan University today after the Italian government blocked its showing.

Described by Italian newspaper La Stampa as a film about how Italy ‘has been left dying by the roadside’ in the past 20 years, Girlfriend in a Coma is written and narrated by former Economist editor Bill Emmott.

Directed by Annalisa Piras, one of the one millions of Italians who left the country during the Berlusconi era, the film describes itself as ‘a blend of Michael Moore, Adam Smith and Bunga Bunga with a dash of Dante’.

Inspired by Emmott’s 2012 book Good Italy Bad Italy, the documentary includes interviews with Prime Minister Mario Monti, philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco, FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne and other notable Italians, plus a special appearance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

Its divisive screening at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) in Rome was postponed until after the country’s upcoming February election following guidance from the Italian Ministry of Culture.

On the website’s blog, Emmott said the cancellation of the screening at the MAXXI would not have happened in any equivalent Western democracy.

“The film is intended to provoke a debate and if the right time to provoke debate, in the capital of Italy, is not an election campaign, then I don’t know what is the right time,” he said.  

Emmott sees dramatic decline ahead for Italy following ‘a moral collapse unmatched anywhere else in the West’ blaming the corrupt Berlusconi government, kleptocratic and incompetent political establishment, bankrupt state, shambling economy, organised crime and rigid and anti-feminist Church.

He believes the country’s closeness to the end of the line could prefigure a much broader Western decline but insists the film is made with optimism at its heart.

Exploring Italy’s virtues as well as its vices, he wants Girlfriend in a Coma to be used as a positive tool for change; revealing the scale of the disaster and raising questions in order to provoke action.

Emmott sees the aim of the documentary’s website,, as encouraging relevant discussion and hopes his outsider view will offer a mirror in which all Italians can see themselves as those abroad see them.

The film’s title, taken from the 1987 Smiths hit, is intended to reflect his emotional involvement with Italy and MMU Senior Lecturer and Head of Italian Nicoletta Di Ciolla, who organised the screening, agreed Girlfriend in a Coma has been made with a tangible love for the country.

“This film is a disquieting analysis of the many problems plaguing contemporary Italy, but also an encouraging and detailed overview of the great potential the country has,” she said.

The event takes place today, Friday February 8 at 5.30pm, in the MMU Sandra Burslem building, room 2.10, and is open to the public.

Emmott and Piras will be present at the screening, to be followed by a Q&A session chaired by Professor Jim Newell of the University of Salford.

Picture courtesy of Alessio85, with thanks.

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