In “Repubblica Nostra,” Paris-based Italian documaker Daniele Incalcaterra takes on the unenviable task of elucidating Italy’s chaotic political circus for the uninitiated. Chronicling the 10-month lifespan of Silvio Berlusconi’s government against a backdrop of media manipulation and corruption crackdowns, the film is an absorbing recap of one of post-World War II Italy’s most politically eventful periods.
Produced for French cultural web Arte, the docu’s most logical outlet would appear to be public television or any forum with an interest in politica all’Italiana. But the density of information covered and the avoidance of didacticism may make it confusing for non-aficionados.
Incalcaterra and his co-scripter, journalist and novelist Davide Pinardi, play out the turbulent events of Berlusconi’s administration like a tragicomic soap opera, focusing on four principal characters.
These are Piercamillo Davigo and Antonio Di Pietro, two front-line magistrates who became prominent during the explosion in the early ’90s of corruption scandals known as tangentopoli (kickback city). Alongside them are two election candidates, Alvaro Superchi, a worker from the Alfa Romeo plant who ran successfully with the PDS (Party of the Democratic Left), and Gianni Pilo, an exponent of Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and head of an opinion-poll company that became one of the media magnate’s most powerful tools.
This relatively concentrated focus allows Incalcaterra to consider specifically the links between politics, the media and justice. The film begins with excerpts from one of the much-publicized corruption trials that destroyed an entire ruling class of politicians and businessmen. It then replays Berlusconi’s entry into politics in the March 1994 national elections, transforming managers from his Fininvest empire into politicians and promising the dawn of a new republic.
Berlusconi’s use of television during his successful campaign is illustrated via his reassuring pre-election spots. Pushing family values and the spiritual rebirth of the nation, these now seem like laughably kitsch doses of evangelical rhetoric. A behind-the-scenes look at the workings of Pilo’s opinion-poll company sheds light on Berlusconi’s method of supporting his political agenda with a barrage of favorable statistics.
Incalcaterra is perhaps guilty of a little leftist romanticism in his choice of PDS representatives, with plain-speaking man of the people Superchi far from typical of Italy’s new left. Docu could have benefited from fuller consideration of the Italian left’s failure to gain a strong foothold despite the total collapse of the old centrist regime.
Film concludes with the tarnishing of Berlusconi’s image when corruption investigations began to touch on his Fininvest activity, eventually forcing him to step down as head of the government. While the pivotal events of the period no doubt will be familiar to anyone with an eye on international political news, many of the most interesting nuances will be lost on audiences with no intimate knowledge of the Italian scene.
More explanatory narration, less willing to take viewer knowledge for granted , would perhaps make this fascinating, well-edited disquisition accessible to a wider public.