With his broad forehead, closely cropped dark hair and grey banker's suit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the least flashy character in director Erik Gandini's high-energy political documentary Videocracy, which made its premiere at key fall film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival. Berlusconi may not share the garish clothes and flamboyant public demeanor of the affluent TV producer, cutthroat paparazzo and young females auditioning for spots as Italian TV co-hosts that make up Gandini's fascinating and fast-paced film. The controversial Prime Minister is the powerful man behind the curtain, a TV magnate whose reality shows featuring scantily clad women helped create Italy's chauvinistic media culture and whose family controls several major newspapers as well as Italy's largest publishing house. Gandini outdoes Michael Moore in that he takes a complex issue, in the case of Videocracy, how Italy's crass media culture led to Berlusconi's political ascendancy, and makes it utterly fascinating and entertaining.
Gandini, who was raised in Italy before relocating to Sweden in 1986, combines insider's knowledge of Italian life with an outsider's unbiased perspective on Berlusconi. Gandini travels throughout Italy interviewing the diverse group of people who have developed careers around Berlusconi, from portly TV agent Lele Mora to the handsome paparazzo Fabrizio Corona, who sells his revealing photos back to the celebrities. Some of the film's subjects are more interesting than others. A woman who makes a living taking photos of Berlusconi's private parties makes little impact and the numerous young women gyrating in talent searches for the next "veline," the scantily clad TV co-hosts that appear on TV variety shows, blur together. When the film becomes overwhelming, Gandini wisely pulls back and focuses on his best interview, Corona, whose shady career makes him a celebrity in his own right.
Gandini does a great job keeping his colorful subjects front and center. While he does not star oncamera like Michael Moore, Gandini's creative hand is felt throughout the film's swift 84 minutes as its English-language narrator. Like his previous documentaries, Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers and Gitmo: The New Rules of War, Gandini does a good job explaining a complex political topic. He also makes it entertaining without fanning the sensationalistic aspects of his subjects. Of course, in the case of people like Corona and Mora, they're already plenty flamboyant.
Editor Johan Söderberg helps keep the original footage from cameramen Manuel Alberto Claro and Lukas Eisenhauer as well as the vast archival images fast moving and coherent with regards to the timeline of the events depicted in the film.
Videocracy is a cultural phenomenon in Italy thanks to a controversial screening at the Venice Film Festival and news stories over Italian TV networks RAI and Mediaset (who refuse to screen the film’s trailer). Their blackballing doubled interest from Italian cinemas and the film continues to do strong box office in Italy. Recently, Berlusconi's massive influence on Italian media has come into question by the Italian courts, which will only benefit the film's performance. While Videocracy will never become a cultural phenomenon in the U.S., high critical praise and strong word of mouth will make the Atmo and Zentropa co-production a prestige lineup addition with modest box office prospects for a film distributor committed to political documentaries. It will also introduce Gandini to U.S. specialty audiences as a documentary filmmaker worthy of anticipation.
Distributor: Lorber Films
Cast: Lele Mora, Fabrizio Corona, Silvio Berlusconi
Director/Screenwriter: Erik Gandini
Producers: Mikael Olsen, Axel Arnö and Erik Gandini
Genre: Documentary; English and Italian-languages, subtitled
Running time: 84 mins
Release date: February 12 NY