“Where are all the women? Are you all gay? Next time, I’ll bring the showgirls.” Not the string of words one expects from a politician of any ranking, much less one that is the leader of a G8 country. Yet this is precisely what Silvio Berlusconi said, in front of television and film cameras, while visiting one of his corrupt construction sites in the region around Aquila, in the arresting and relentlessly probing documentary Draquila – Italy Trembles, currently screening at Hot Docs in Toronto.
Sabina Guzzanti has been called Italy’s Michael Moore, and while the comparison is 100% accurate, the resemblance is a no-brainer. Always in pursuit of corruption, hypocrisy, greed and the general misdeeds of those in power, Guzzanti hits the pavement with film crew to track down her story with an insatiable investigative zeal combined with wit and humour. But her humour is much more nuanced and less schticky like Moore’s and her investigative reporting is much much more thorough than the baseball-clad American.
Guzzanti doesn’t enjoy the widespread exposure that Moore does, which is a pity, because Draquila – Italy Trembles is a searing and brilliant essay and satire on corrupt megalomaniac Berlusconi’s Italy. In short, it is an important cultural-political intervention and finely executed character assassination of the chauvinist leader.
Draquila – Italy Trembles picks up after the devastating 2009 earthquake in Aquila, where tens of thousands were displaced and over 300 killed. Guzzanti adeptly shows how Berlusconi and his cronies cashed in the tragedy through corrupt construction schemes, consolidated power, and carried out a frightening experiment of suspending basic civil rights from thousands basically detained in a relocation camp for months.
The exposé is also unbelievable: the prostitutes, the champaign, the billions in Euros, the corruption so cynical a wire-tapped phone conversation between two business friends of Berlusconi has them chuckling about the benefit the earthquake will bring to their bank accounts. Coupled with Guzzanti’s relentless investigative drive to untangle an insanely complicated mess of lies and corruption, are two other themes – the acquiescence of the Italian people and the resistance of those not duped by the facade of the Berlusconi machine. These three thematics are expertly woven into a frenetic ride of a film that entertains, shocks and amazes.Completely independently produced, I can’t imagine the film had much in the way of money and despite this, it is also a fine film to watch, save for some shaky camera work here and there. While so many Italians feel powerless in the face of the Berlusconi machine and a fawning, bought media, some still keep the faith and tirelessly work to expose his lies and self-serving actions with the hope that his empire will be brought down.
It is faith in the triumph of truth, and the true story of Berlusconi’s Italy has been powerfully and thoroughly told by Guzzanti in her riveting and rollicking documentary Draquila – Italy Trembles. If enough people take notice of her film, and I’m sure it’s yet another incredible challenge in terms of distribution and dissemination, then perhaps Italy’s—sorry, Berlusconi’s—corporate media machine will show cracks in the gleaming surface and light will shine through exposing one of the dirtiest, most disgustingly greedy and corrupt political systems on the planet.
At that point, it should be much easier to take down the target and we can all thank Sabina Guzzanti for opening up the path.