‘Television and power are one and the same here,’ narrates Italian-born and Swedish-based director Eric Gandini in this fascinating portrait of Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy. Over the past three decades Berlusconi, the current Prime Minister, has amassed a formidable media empire – it’s estimated that he now controls 90% of the broadcast media in Italy. During this period the perma-tanned mogul has presided over a cultural revolution by perfecting a strategy of bread and circuses: his TV channels are awash with programmes that worship fame, voluptuous female beauty and wealth, where scantily clad hostesses (vedine) stand silently next to male hosts and then perform the stachetto (a type of dance).
This documentary is not, however, a satirical, Michael Moore-style polemic. Gandini adopts a more observational approach, gaining interviews with a handful of individuals whose lives are enmeshed in today’s celebrity culture. There’s the provincial mechanic Ricky, dreaming of performing his Ricky Martin-meets-Jean-Claude Van Damme act on reality television. There’s the influential TV agent Lele Mora, proudly displaying the ringtones of an anthem celebrating Mussolini. And there’s the paparazzi boss Fabrizio Corona, who sells incriminating photographs back to celebrities and is at one point jailed for extortion, which boosts his public profile. Gandini may not always be able to sustain all his arguments: what, for example, of all the people who protest against Berlusconi’s rule? Yet Videocracy does reveal how Berlusconi has used television to promulgate his version of the world, while maintaining the illusion that he’s simply giving people what they want.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Mon 28 Jun.