Documentary starts off slowly, but the second half is riveting
"Agnelli" (2017 release; 105 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of Italian business executive extraordinaire Gianni Agnelli, best known for his role as Chairman of Fiat. As the movie opens, we are in 1976 and Agnelli is giving a TV interview in which he expresses his deep concern for the rising Italian Communist Party, and the turmoil in Italian society in general. The movie then steps back and gives an introduction to his family background and upbringing in Turin, home of Fiat (and Juventus FC), eventually leading to Agnelli's becoming Fiat Chairman in 1966.
Couple of comments: this is the second documentary from director Nick Hooker, who just last year brought us the entertaining "Everything Is Copy" (about the life and times of Nora Ephron). Here he goes a very different direction, and tackles the flamboyant, if brilliant, Italian business executive, and the movie is divided into 5 chapters. Due to how the man lived his life (which kept him from fully functioning as a business man until his 40s), the first part of the movie focuses more on the playboy side of Agnelli. I mean, do I really care he had countless lovers (including apparently Jackie Kennedy, just to name that name)? The movie truly finds its footing when we get to "Part III: The Years of Lead", which focuses on the enormous upheaval in the mid/late 70s to early 80s when the Red Brigades terrorized Italian society (even kidnapping and killing Italy's Prime Minister in 1978) and how close the system came to a complete collapse. The "lead" to in the chapter title refers not just to bullets killing people but that the overall atmosphere was "very, very heavy", one of the talking heads explains. Hooker interviews tons of Agnelli family members, friends, business associates and others (including the guy who for 10 (!) years (1975-85) was the Communist mayor of Torino). It keeps the film moving forward quite nicely. But the very best part of the movie remains the chilling archive footage of the 60s, 70s and even 80s, as Fiat's business fortunes mirror a roller coaster.
"Agnelli" premiered recently as part of HBO's Documentary series, and I caught it just the other day on HBO on Demand. Despite a tentative start, which focuses too much on the personal side of Agnelli, I ended up very much enjoying this film, for reasons explained earlier, and would recommend that you check it out when you get the chance.
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