Dir: Jan Henrik Stahlberg. Ger. 2006. 88mins.
It's easy to see why the Berlinaleprogrammed this tricksy political satire in itsPanorama sidebar: dealing as it does with the controversial figure of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi,it comes with guaranteed news cachet. But although it has some hilariousmoments, the German-produced, Italian-language Bye Bye Berlusconi craves its audience'ssympathy and indulgence too earnestly to be really effective as satire.
In certain territories -such as Germany or France - it will get that sympathy in spadefuls.But in Italy, its distribution chances are not only going to be damaged by thepremier's extensive control of the nation's cinema exhibition and television outlets.After all, a far more effective and hard-hitting satire about the nervousself-censorship that is currently the norm in Italy - comedienne Sabina Guzzanti's Viva Zaptero! - enjoyed a long run at the Italian box officeat the end of last year.
Italians are more likely tobe put off by the fact that, despite its film-within-a-film circus tricks, thiscomes across as a rather unsubtle, outsider's view of their unique political mudheap.
Seeing people who look likeother famous people is always a laugh, and ByeBye Berlusconi derives part of its comic impactfrom this crude but effective tactic.
Double Maurizio Antonini, who makes a living out of his resemblance toItaly's media-magnate-turned-prime-minister, plays Berlusconi... except thathe's not Berlusconi.
The kidnapping sequence thatopens the film, with its echoes of the Red Brigade abduction of politician AldoMoro, is interrupted by the appearance of director, crew and producer. Theproducer informs the cast that, following legal advice, the shoot is going tohave to be suspended while they work out a way of getting around the libel laws: it's not enough to beep outBerlusconi's name like a swear-word every time it's pronounced.
The solution eventuallyadopted is to make the film's anti-hero the aspiring mayor of the small villageof Topolonia, or Mouseville,not to mention the owner of the local TV station, Teleanguria(Watermelon TV) - whose trashy programming provides the film with plenty of gagpotential.
The rest of the action cutsback and forth with handheld urgency between the trials and tribulations ofcast and crew, who come up against police harassment and bureaucraticstonewalling in their attempt to make the film, and the fictional story itself.
This revolves around the kidnappingof the mayor by a guerilla band and his trial oncharges that restate the genuine legal challenges - on counts ranging from briberyof judges to financial irregularities - thatBerlusconi has faced in his chequered career.
But although theperformances - especially that of co-writer Lucia Chiarlaas one of the kidnappers - are committed enough, the film's satirical impact isweakened by our sense that the fictional production company's setbacks arestaged rather than real - something that was most emphatically not the case withSabina Guzzanti, who real tussles with censorshipgave Viva Zapatero!its potency.
In the end, Bye Bye Berlusconifeels like a well- meaning student exercise, wearing its heart on its sleeveand desperate to be loved.
Arri Media Worldsales
Jan Henrik Stahlberg