In Italy, films critical of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi are almost non-existent. “Bye Bye Berlusconi” suggests why this is so. This German satire by first-time helmer Jan Henrik Stahlberg, shot in Genoa with Italian actors, is a missed opportunity that revolves around the legal and physical dangers run by a film crew trying to shoot such a film. Though Stahlberg and Lucia Chiarla’s script has some exalting moments of satirical humor, its main audience will be the Euroland converted. Given the ranks of Berlusconi detractors, however, that could still translate into a respectable profit for this amusing, if on-the-nose, political critique.
Scrambling fiction and reality so thoroughly, the story becomes confusing — scenes alternate between a no-budget film shoot hounded by the authorities, and a fictional film-within-a-film about a terrorist cell that kidnaps Berlusconi and puts him on trial via the Internet. When the police get wind of the shoot, they try to intimidate the producer, director and his crew. To keep from being sued, the producer changes the prime minister’s name to “Mickey Mouse.”
However, in a bow to Walt Disney, “Bye Bye Berlusconi’s” real-life lawyers thought it prudent to alter the English subtitles to “Mickey Louse,” while the Italian dialogue goes with “Topolino,” the traditional Italian translation of Mickey.
One can see how such problems, while furnishing a running gag throughout the film, shift the main focus from Berlusconi’s alleged corruption of judges, tax evasion, money laundering and mafia connections (all actual court cases, barely mentioned during the staged “trial”) to the marginal issue of copyright/libel hell.
At the same time, the film gives way to unconvincing dark fantasies when it shows the protags’ lives being threatened. As Italo satirists like filmmaker Sabina Guzzanti (“Viva Zapatero!”) have found out, the consequences of displeasing Berlusconi are generally limited to having your TV show canceled and your career put on ice — and battling lawsuits.
Chiarla stands out as a firebrand terrorist (Stahlberg also appears on screen as the film director), but the acting laurels go to Maurizio Antonini for his irate Berlusconi impersonation. Tech work is lively.