Draquila: Italy Trembles -- Film Review



VENICE -- Viva Sabina Guzzanti, who proves once again that satirists and (some) filmmakers are stepping up to fill the gaps left open by journalists in Italy, whose media is mostly in the hands of President Silvio Berlusconi. However, "Draquila: Italy Trembles" doesn't tackle an issue that affected Guzzanti directly, like censorship, with which she dealt in 2005's "Viva Zapatero!"

Despite its pun of a name, "Draquila" (Dracula + Aquila) is a straightforward and surprisingly balanced documentary on government corruption before and after the Aquila earthquake of 2009, which took more than 300 lives and devastated portions of the city and its vast cultural patrimony.

Sure, audiences will mostly be the choir to which Guzzanti preaches, but this stomach-turning indictment will receive greater visibility from its Special Screening at Cannes. On its opening weekend, "Draquila" took in just over 260,000 euros from 102 screens at home but could easily become the sleeper hit that "Viva Zapatero!" was domestically. And despite relatively low-budget production values, the film has the potential to travel, with its Orwellian subject matter backed by Wild Bunch's sales expertise.

Italy's answer to Michael Moore (for better or for worse), Guzzanti knows that a natural disaster is a photo-op godsend to politicians whose approval ratings are in freefall from corruption and sex scandals. So she probes deeper, narrowing in on the national Civil Protection Agency in charge of resolving the problems in Aquila. Run by Guido Bertolaso, a buddy of Berlusconi's, the CPA operates above and beyond the law during national emergencies.

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However, in the early 1990s the first Berlusconi administration stretched the national emergency law to include "big events" that now comprise numerous sporting and religious events, even papal visits to rinky-dink towns. Most of which have been used to justify large-scale, illegal construction. (Bertolasi is himself now being investigated on corruption and sex charges.)

These intricate bonds of construction corruption are made painfully clear in the Aquila aftermath. Just days after the earthquake the president was selling dazed victims a huge prefab housing project -- headed by the same engineer who weeks before had assured Aquileans there was no reason to worry, despite months of seismic activity. While waiting for the housing, 30,000 of the city's new homeless were sent to seaside hotels. Another 30,000 were put up in patrolled tent cities in which they were not allowed to assemble, put up banners of dissent or receive "undesirable" visitors. Or be served coffee, Coke or alcohol -- lest they become too agitated.

Six months later, the first temporary constructions were inaugurated on Berlusconi's birthday, but there are enough to house only 30% of the displaced victims. Who were told that everything inside their homes, down to the dustpans, must be returned when they leave, and were sternly dissuaded from hammering a single nail into the walls. The remaining two-thirds of the victims are stuck in limbo.

The editing, music and lively animated inserts add cohesion to this alarming story, and Guzzanti gives ample screen time to those who still see Berlusconi as a miracle worker and paternal savior, keeping her notorious outrage in check. Even when pointing out that the opposition was unjustifiably absent from Aquila or how the media has conveniently kept the above problems from the population at large.

A year after the earthquake, Aquila is still a ghost town, its center "protected" by the military who allow no one to enter, not even those areas that suffered little or no damage. In recent days, Italian Cultural Minister Sandro Bondi announced he is boycotting Cannes, in a sign of protest against the festival's selection of "Draquila."

Venue: Festival de Cannes, Special Screenings

Production companies: Secol Superbo, Sciocco Produzioni, Gruppo Ambra, Alba Produzioni
Sales: Wild Bunch
Director: Sabina Guzzanti
Producers: Sergio Bernardi, Sandro Frezza, Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani
Director of photography: Mario Amura, Clarissa Cappellani
Music: Riccardo Giagni, Maurizio Rizzuto
Editor: Clelio Benevento
No rating, 95 minutes