To most outside Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s political success is a hard thing to fathom. He comes across a mixture of clown and criminal, unfit to run a fruit stand never mind a country. Yet that’s to misunderstand much of the appeal that comes from a strong and stable figure in a country that burns through governments like cheap hotel matches. In Berlusconi: A Sicilian Story, Tatti Sanguineti traces the failed attempts of his friend, the controversial director and writer Franco Maresco, to uncover Berlusconi’s links to Sicily, an area in which he remains hugely popular. As an expose of the former Prime Minister’s links to organised crime and the odd world of Sicilian showbiz, it’s insubstantial, but as a documentary about the follies and frustrations of filmmaking, it’s riveting.
Maresco originally set out to reveal the links between Berlusconi and the Mafia but after hitting a dead-end, he changed course to examine the mad, mad world of Sicilian entertainment and its Mafia ties, particularly the indescribable (not even the singers themselves seem to know what it consists of) neomelodic performers. After running into countless problems, the film ended up shelved and Maresco disappeared (Sanguineti fears depression rather than foul play) leading his friend to tell the story of this doomed adventure.
The vast majority of the footage comes straight from Maresco’s film with only the occasional interlude by Sanguineti to link it together. The harder hitting investigative thread quickly runs aground with no one willing to talk. He does get a Senator to start discussing Berlusconi’s links to an unexplained death, but the incompetent film crew lose the sound. It’s at this point that he turns down the entertainment route, allowing the film’s leading man to enter; Ciccio Mira.
Mira is a neomelodic music producer, former singer and confidante of the Mafia, even if he denies it at times. He’s also the comic heartbeat in Maresco’s film. He’s a larger than life buffoon, mugging to camera, talking nonsense or sitting in silence like a child. He seems almost permanently genial even when mocked. Discussing the role of neomelodic music, he stumbles over the word folklore, repeatedly mispronouncing it. Facebook is also Febuk and he’ll go from denying knowledge of Mafia bosses one moment to discussing his time growing up with them the next.
There’s a strong supporting cast of fellow idiots in the shape of his stable of neomelodic singers. One, when asked what a neomelodic singer is, claims he doesn’t know but he is one. None of this gets any closer to revealing the links between Berlusconi and the Mafia, or indeed why the people of Sicily love him so. They’re occasionally asked with no notable results. It doesn’t matter though as this is not truly about Berlusconi. The real story is Maresco’s increasingly desperate odyssey to complete a film that stubbornly remains out of reach. Always fascinating and often hilarious, it’s a worthy tribute to the determined madness that drives filmmakers.
Director: Franco Maresco
Writers: Franco Maresco, Claudia Uzzo
Stars: Salvatore De Castro, Marcello Dell’Utri, Ficarra
Runtime: 95 min