Director: Erik Gandini
Screenwriter: Erik Gandini
Directors of Photography:
Running time: 85 minutes
Videocracy, a documentary by the Italian-born filmmaker Erik Gandini, looks at the extent to which Italian television culture has become Italian culture tout court: it is a culture based on the most extreme kind of artifice and ignores the strides women around the world have made for their rights in the past century. In short, the current Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has shaped a culture that applauds the debasement of women – relegating them to the kitchen and rendering them mute and big-breasted – and he has used his many television stations to promote this idea over the past few decades.
Of course, this is not the first time Berlusconi serves as inspiration for a film – in 2006 Nanni Moretti memorably depicted him in Il Caimano - but Videocracy uses people close to Berlusconi, such as talent scout Lele Mora and celebrity Fabrizio Corona, to present us with a very good idea of the vast media empire that Berlusconi controls, and the power he exerts – not only politically, but ideologically and even culturally.
Italian television systematically presents women as objects of desire – no more, no less. Young Italian women want to conform to this figure of the silent mannequin, so that they might become objects of desire and (the dream!) marry a footballer. The apex of such stardom is the figure of the “Velina”: the silent blonde, who appears onstage during a talk show or a game show always hosted by a male presenter. From time to time she might break out into a 30-second dance routine called a “Staccheto”, before returning to her pose. The film paints a very tragic picture of the extremes of a heteronormative society in which there is no gender equality.
Director Erik Gandini has collected a great deal of material to show us this artifice in all its gaudy glory, but he does not dig much deeper. For example, I thought the character of Lele Mora, an old talent scout who invites young male celebrities to his house so that they can lounge around the pool and he can spy on them from his bedroom window, had great potential as a counterbalance (or at least a contradiction) to the very explicitly heterosexual foundations of Italian society. The fact that such an influential figure has what amounts to a harem at his house in Sardinia presented a wonderful opportunity to Erik Gandini, but rather than pursue this avenue, Gandini gives us Mora’s comparison of Berlusconi with Mora’s own idol, Mussolini. It is a silly moment that lasts much longer than it should (Mora has a Mussolini ring tone on his mobile phone), but Gandini picks up this train of thought again later in the film during a scene of a military parade, with the expected close-ups of boots marching and Berlusconi looking on as the artillery passes in slow motion.
Neither does Gandini succeed in tying his different threads together. Berlusconi is certainly at the centre of events, but in this 85-minute film we get a story of sad idealism in this society, where a 25-year-old mechanic named Ricky wants to impress the girls by singing Ricky Martin songs while performing karate, but he fails (because of Berlusconi’s television society, the film would have us believe, but it’s actually because he is bad at what he does). He has a firm belief that television ensures “that you’ll be remembered forever” and that an appearance on television puts you “10 steps above everyone else”, making it possible for you to compete with the football players for the hearts and bodies of those sought-after Italian women, i.e. the Veline.
We also get a glimpse of the sad life of Fabrizio Corona, an oversexed narcissist whose business dealing with the powerful elite in Italy is the stuff of gangster films. He memorably refers to himself as a modern-day Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself, but the storylines of Corona, Ricky, Lele Mora and Berlusconi are never really properly tied together.
Gandini also provides a very awkward voice-over that is annoying because Gandini speaks in English, which is not his native language, and there is no apparent reason why a better trained English speaker could not have delivered the narration.
The film lacks a tight focus on its subject and is happy to make us laugh at the madness of this television society, whenever the film is not relying on our admiration of its access to a forbidden world. One moment that does stand out is Berlusconi’s campaign video, a karaoke song about the excellence - nay, godliness - of this man who calls himself President (a label perpetuated by Gandini himself, who never calls the man “Prime Minister”).
Viewed at the Jihlava International Film Festival 2011