"Girlfriend in a Coma" premieres in Rome

A capacity crowd of approximately 700 people attended the Italian premiere of the controversial documentary “Girlfriend in a Coma” at Rome’s Teatro Eliseo on the evening of 13 February. There was a heavy police presence outside the Via Nazionale theatre which screened the film following the cancellation of the original premiere scheduled for the same date at the MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome.

The producers of the highly-critical documentary about the direction of Italy’s politics, economy and society claimed they were victims of censorship after the MAXXI cancelled the film during the run-up to national elections on 24-25 February. Billed as a documentary on "the decline" of Italy, the film was written by London-based Italian journalist Annalisa Piras and is narrated by English journalist and author Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist magazine from 1993 until 2006.

Speaking at the Italian premiere, Emmott said that the decision by the MAXXI was symbolic of the problems identified in the movie: "sloth, self-censorship and the politicisation of Italian institutions." The journalist added that the movie was “the result of years of work” and the goal was to “put pressure to change Italy.”

The premiere was organised in collaboration with Italy’s left-leaning weekly magazine L’Espresso and hosted by Rome airport bus company Terravision. In addition to Emmott and Piras the event was attended by Italian magistrate and politician Antonia Ingroia, and Giovanni Tizian, the L’Espresso journalist who lives under police protection after being threatened by ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian-based Mafia organisation.

The producers claim that Italy’s culture ministry, which supervises the MAXXI, cancelled the original screening because the film was “too political” for the pre-election period. However the MAXXI stated that it was standard practice not to host politically-linked events during an election campaign but said it would be happy to screen the film once the election was over. A spokeswoman for the MAXXI’s new director Giovanna Melandri – a former culture minister in two centre-left governments from 1998-2001 – said the decision did not amount to censorship and denied that the culture ministry issued orders for the postponement of the film’s premiere.

The hard-hitting documentary set out to “make sense” of Italy in recent decades and, despite searching for “Mala Italia and Buona Italia”, the film is predominantly negative and at times despairing of the direction being taken by Italy. Indeed the statistics quoted in the film – on a range of issues from crime to emigration to the role of women in Italian society – make for depressing viewing.

It features interviews with prominent Italian figures such as prime minister Mario Monti, author Umberto Eco and filmmaker Gianni Moretti, while the person who undoubtedly comes out worst in the film was former premier Silvio Berlusconi, currently running for re-election at the end of February. This should come as no surprise as, during his tenure as editor of The Economist, Emmott was one of Berlusconi’s fiercest critics, frequently accusing the ex-prime minster of being “unfit to govern”.

The film’s second Italian screening takes place on 14 February in L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region, before touring elsewhere in Italy. To see the list of venues see the website.