All roads lead to Silvio Berlusconi in this spooky documentary about Italy’s tacky and sinister TV and celebrity culture – a culture that implicates producers, agents, wannabe stars, politicians, paparazzi and Italy’s prime minister in one bottle-blonde, busty, poolside circle of hell. Director Erik Gandini captures a mood of ground-level desperation – we meet a karate-chopping mechanic who wants to be on reality TV and a gaggle of girls who gyrate wildly in the hope of becoming weathergirls – before introducing two grotesque puppet-masters: Lele Mora, an ageing playboy and agent who throws parties at his Sardinian villa for the C-list crowd and is proud of his Mussolini ringtones (‘great man, great leader’), and Fabrizio Corona, a former paparazzi boss and extortionist who thrives on his ruthless, self-serving image and boasts: ‘I’ve become a symbol.’ A symbol of all that’s wrong with modern Italy, we assume.
Gandini’s voiceover explains his purpose – ‘television and power are one and the same’ and, of the culture of Berlusconi, ‘we have the feeling he’s everywhere, even when he’s not visually present’ – but he allows his often jaw-dropping images to do the talking, and hats (or maybe Y-fronts) off to him for persuading Corona to be filmed preening in the shower. He reminds us that Berlusconi owns three commercial TV channels and controls all state television (so influencing 90 per cent of the country’s viewers), but he prefers intoning a sense of a culture overrun with corrupting vanity to making specific accusations. The combination of terrific footage with a low, rumbling score of doom makes this a compelling horror show.