Saturday, July 29, 2006

VIVA ZAPATERO! - Berlusconi is not fit to run Italy

Let's start with the irrelevant bad stuff. This movie is already short but could be way shorter. The documentary contains material that is often repetitive and is always badly organised. The quality of the camerawork is poor as it is usually shaky video footage of door-stepped interviews.

Like I said, all that is completely irrelevant because this is an important and fascinating movie. My mate Melvin reckons Western Europe is now decadent - too weak to have the balls to stand up for the values it supposedly avows. And here is a documenatary which proves him right....

When Berlusconi first stood for election in Italy, The Economist ran a front page with the caption, "this man is not fit to run Italy." Berlusconi was a man of questionable business practices under threat of legal action. He already had near-total control of the private media in Italy - an undoubted advantage in a political campaign. If elected, he would also gain control over the state media as well as being able to legislate himself out of his legal troubles.

Although promising to divest himself of his media interests, while in power Berlusconi has systematically stamped on critical voices in the press and on TV. The usual tactic is to threaten the organisation employing the critical voice with a huge lawsuit. As the Italian satirist, Sabina Guzzanti, points out in her documentary, Berlusconi has done this with the complicity of the centre-left.

Sabina Guzzanti decided to put on a satirical show on RAI-uno - the Italian state TV station. However, after just one show it was pulled from the air when Berlusconi threatened RAI with a number of lawsuits. She was then slammed in print. The documentary shows her challenging those that could over-turn this censorship - to no avail. She also interviews other famous censored journo's and celebrated radicals such as Dario Fo. It's great stuff.

Coming from a country where satire is alive and well - just look at The Now Show, Rory Bremner or Private Eye - the idea that you could be pulled off air for doing an impression of a politician is scary. After all, we are talking Italy not China. And given that I also live in a country dominated by the Murdoch media - which may be more subtle but.... - it contains some salutory lessons. All this makes VIVA ZAPATERO! compulsory viewing.

VIVA ZAPATERO! premiered at Venice 2005 where it received a twenty minute standing ovation. It has since been released in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands. It is currently on limited release in the UK.

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