Berlusconi snaps at film satirising his life

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Italy's most eagerly awaited film of the year has opened in 380 cinemas across the country, but Silvio Berlusconi will not be going to see it. "Absolutely not," he snapped when a reporter asked him.

This is hardly surprising: the film revolves around the many controversies of the Italian Prime Minister's career. And it concludes with - the finale that through a long series of criminal trials Mr Berlusconi has so far managed to avoid - a conviction and a long jail sentence. In the film's apocalyptic last sequence, after the judges' verdict the Prime Minister figure tells reporters outside court that the people, his supporters, should react "in any way you like" to the court's decision. Cue fire-bombs detonating on the steps of the court.

Mr Berlusconi is Il Caimano (The Alligator), the film by the Italian director Nanni Moretti. In 2001, he became the first Italian to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes for 23 years, with an intense film about family tragedy, The Son's Room. In 1994, his whimsical autobiographical film Caro Diario (Dear Diary) won the director prize at Cannes.

In his new film there is no attempt to disguise the figure of the politician and media mogul, who in real life faces a general election in two weeks and continues to trail in the polls.

"Where does all the money come from?" is the chorus of bewilderment as the budding tycoon, played by Elio de Capitani, announces the construction of a new town outside Milan, takes over Italy's commercial television network and launches his political party.

Moretti, who has been a mordant observer of Italian politics for more than 30 years, swore his actors and crew to silence, and when one early choice for the lead role blabbed to the press he was sacked. The director has given no interviews and released no photographs. The mood of anticipation surrounding the film, released amid an increasingly fierce election campaign, has been intense.

Yet if the Italian opposition were hoping for a work that, like Fahrenheit 9/11 in the US, would inspire supporters, they hoped in vain. Like all Moretti's films, it is too personal and idiosyncratic to be propaganda.

"It's useless to make a film on Berlusconi," Moretti says, playing himself in the film, "because everybody knows everything already which means he has already won: our brains changed 30 years ago".

And it is true: every detail of Berlusconi's career has already been examined in dozens of books and thousands of press articles, from the most hagiographical to the most harshly critical. So how to arouse indignation with a story as familiar now as any fairytale?

Moretti embeds the tycoon's life-story in a densely layered narrative. The idea of making a film on Berlusconi originates with an untried director, Teresa, who persuades a hack producer, Bruno, that this may be the thing to save his career. "The public is waiting for it," she insists. "It's not possible that no one in Italy has been able to make a film about Berlusconi." Attempts at getting finance are frustrated: so powerful is Berlusconi that nobody wants to get involved in a project hostile to him. Finally, a friendly Pole bankrolls the film.

The film's preview was met with scathing hostility on the right. Michele Bonatesta, a leader of the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, said: "It is an ugly film ... The final sequence does not disappoint those who have been waiting for it, regaling them with the quintessence of envious malice, resentment and hatred in the face of Berlusconi ... It's a film that will win many, many votes for the centre-right."