The power of the Italo boob tube comes under light scrutiny in "Videocracy."

The power of the Italo boob tube comes under light scrutiny in “Videocracy,” a docu from Italian-born, Sweden-based helmer Erik Gandini. Rather than presenting a well-argued expose of the disturbing symbiosis that exists between Italo politics and TV, with Prime Minister Berlusconi being only the most obvious connection, the scribe-helmer gets sidetracked by marginal characters while keeping bare facts to a minimum. Pic went out on some 70 Italo screens on Sept. 4, but is unlikely to turn Gandini into a local Michael Moore. Nearby countries might contain more choirs to preach to, though mostly — and appropriately — via TV.

Ironically, the documentary would indeed be more suited to TV broadcast, but will unlikely be screened that way in Italy. Pubcaster RAI, which Berlusconi as prime minister is responsible for, as well as Berlusconi’s Mediaset channels have refused to even air “Videocracy’s” trailer.

Gandini (“Gitmo: The New Rules of War”) kicks off with a fragment of a 30-year-old risque game show that, he argues, opened the door for the past three decades of primetime T&A on pretty much all Italian channels (90% of which are directly or indirectly controlled by Berlusconi). This is the modern version of the Romans’ bread and circuses.

Since everything seems to be better on the tube, thousands of Italians dream of a career in TV. Gandini lines up his three main subjects to illustrate this, with only one of them tangentially related to Berlusconi.

After explaining the phenom of the Veline, the boob-tube showgirls, Gandini somewhat oddly turns his camera on a male wannabe star: mechanic Ricky Canevali, who’s convinced the world is waiting for his combo of Ricky Martin music and karate moves. If not scripted, Gandini’s portrayal of Ricky is borderline cruel, succumbing to the same dubious morality as the countless TV shows that cash in on people’s egregious lack of talent (and judgment).

More in control are Italy’s No. 1 TV agent, Lele Mora, and his former partner in crime and current paparazzo king and semi-celebrity, Fabrizio Corona. Mora is an openly fascist friend of Berlusconi’s who suggests the leader isn’t quite Mussolini yet but does recall him in certain ways. The road to smallscreen stardom in Italy leads directly to his villa in Sardinia, close to the property of Berlusconi himself.

But by far the most amoral — and interesting — figure is Corona, who sells snaps taken by his army of paparazzi not to the papers, but directly to the stars. Having done time for extortion, he has since turned himself into something of a celebrity, creating a mini-empire around his name that proves talent (apart from business savvy and a certain ruthlessness) is unnecessary to remain at the top. His appearance here seems entirely choreographed and is all the scarier for it.

But the portraits of these three men say more about Italy’s celebrity-obsessed culture than its media-political complex, and the facts Gandini does offer include nothing that couldn’t be gleaned from a two-minute Internet search. In his English-language voiceover, the helmer often mentions “the TV of the president” and other vague terms without backing them up or talking about their inner workings. Ironically, the docu often has more in common with reality TV than with a documentary proper.

Interviews with other folks, including a woman who takes and sells pictures at Berlusconi’s private parties and the director of Italian “Big Brother,” further diffuse the pic’s focus, while lensing is of TV quality. Editing is slightly messy, with fuzzy chronology of events, especially in the Corona story.

Videocracy

Sweden

Production

A Folkets Bio release of an Atmo presentation and production, in association with Zentropa, SVT, with the participation of BBC4 Storyville, Danish Broadcasting Corp., YLE FST. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Erik Gandini. Executive producer, Kristina Aberg. Co-producers, Mikael Olsen, Axel Arno. Directed, written by Erik Gandini.

Crew

Camera (color), Manuel Alberto Claro, Lukas Eisenhauer; editor, Johan Soderberg; music, Johan Soderberg, David Soderberg; art director, Martin Hultman; sound (Dolby Digital), Hans Moller; associate producer, Ann-Louice Dahlgren; assistant director, Iacopo Patierno. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days/Critics' Week -- Special Event), Sept. 3, 2009. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Real to Reel.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Ricky Canevali, Lele Mora, Marella Giovannelli, Silvio Berlusconi, Fabio Calvi, Fabrizio Corona. Narrator: Erik Gandini. (Italian, English dialogue)
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