Dir/scr: Sabina Guzzanti. It. 2005. 80mins.

Sabina Guzzanti'santi-censorship documentary Viva Zapatero! does for Italianprime minister Silvio Berlusconi what Fahrenheit 9/11 did for George Bush: itexposes the ugly subtext that, in the film-maker's view, lies behind theairbrushed public image.

Like Michael Moore, Sabina Guzzanti is no shrinking violet, and there is at first anelement of tub-thumping in this comedienne's 80-minute celluloid protest overItalian state broadcaster RAI's spiking of RaiOT, a satirical TV series which she co-wrote and co-presentedin the autumn of 2003.

But the alarm bells that areringing by the end of this fine piece of agit-propcinema have a more universal application: Guzzantishows the audience how it is possible to hijack and divert a constitutionalsystem by slow degrees until what was previously considered anti-democraticsuddenly seems normal.

In Italy, the film has beenthe most successful documentary of 2005 so far, and is still posting robustscreen averages for distributor Lucky Red in its eighth week.
International sales notched up by Wild Bunch include Spain, Belgium, theNetherlands, France (where it opens next month) and Switzerland.

Audiences in the rest ofEurope should be hooked by its continuing morbid fascination with Berlusconi,the media magnate, property developer and football club owner who becameItalian prime minister for a second term in 2001.

But Guzzantialso broadens the appeal of her film by roping in a series of pan-Europeaninterviewees, including Rome-based media correspondents

Fellow comedians alsofeature, including Britain's Rory Bremner, whose uncannily accurate take-off of Tony Blair kick-startsthe film. It's less with any eye on the non-Italian market, more to explain to thoseat home how, in other countries, politicians are not exactly treated with kidgloves by TV and press.

The point is also eloquentlymade with a scene from French satirical series Les Guignols dell'Infoin which Jacques Chirac is assassinated by two Pulp-Fiction-style hitmen for failing tomaintain election promises.

And some Spaniards will nodoubt be flattered by the film's title, which is a reference to a billintroduced by Spanish prime minister Jose LuisRodriguez Zapatero reducing the influence ofpolitical parties on the state broadcaster RTVE.

Interspersed with theseguest-appearance out-takes are extracts from the one episode of RaiOT that was broadcast before the board of directors ofRAI Televison shut the series down. To tell thetruth, it's not all great satire, except for flashes of brilliance like Nero Marcore's take-off of communications minister Maurizio Gasparri.

But Guzzanti'swhole point is that it's not the quality of the product that matters: it's thefact that in a healthy democracy one should be able to caricature and ridiculeone's political leaders. The day after episode one was broadcast, Mediaset (Silvio Berlusconi'smedia company, which is RAI's main rival) sued thepublic broadcaster for defamation and asked for damages of $20m. This wasenough to prompt the suspension of RaiOT - eventhough a judge soon threw out the case.

Like Michael Moore, Guzzanti has never made any secret of her left-wingsympathies. But in Viva Zapatero! she is less thantender with those supposed allies on the Left who, in her view, either didnothing to defend the suspension of RaiOT, oractively supported it.

These include Lucia Annunziata, who at this time was president of RAI, and ClaudioPetruccioli, current RAI boss, who at the time washead of the inter-party watchdog commission that gave its blessing to theshutdown. The interview with a clearly embarrassed, near aphasic Petruccioli is one of the surreal highlights of a film thatis often hilariously funny as well as painful.

Production values areoccasionally in the wobbly handheld league, but RiccardoGiagni and Maurizio Rizzuto'speppy electro-Celtic soundtrack helps to glue the whole thing together.

Production companies
Studio Uno
Secol Superbo & Sciocco Produzioni

International sales
Wild Bunch

Valerio Terenzio Trigona
Sabina Guzzanti

Paolo Santolini

Clelio Benevento

Riccardo Giagni
Maurizio Rizzuto

Main appearances
Sabina Guzzanti
Rory Bremner
Daniele Luttazzi
Dario Fo
Beppe Grillo