"If you wanted to script a cautionary tale about the politics of fame (and the fame of politics), you couldn't come up with anything more apt and odd thanErik Gandini's documentary Videocracy, a submersion into the weirdness of Italian television by a filmmaker trying to explain his homeland to his new neighbors in Sweden." Noel Murray at the AV Club: "Ostensibly a critique of inordinately popular prime minister Silvio Berlusconi - who owns 80% of the TV stations in Italy, and owes much of his political success to his understanding of what TV audiences want - Videocracy follows a deliberate, book-ended structure with Berlusconi squarely in the middle."
"Italy has found its Michael Moore in Erik Gandini," declares Lee Marshall in Screen. "However, unlike the Michigan mauler, Gandini mostly keeps himself out of the picture and lets a well-chosen array of subjects - TV agents, paparazzi, wannabe stars – carry his message that the unhealthy concentration of media and political power in the hands of a single man has pushed Italy to the brink of moral meltdown."
"While Berlusconi is at the center of the film," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter, "he shares screen time with several others whom Gandini has chosen as symbols of today's Italy - the powerful TV talent agent Lele Mora, who is an open admirer of Mussolini and Hitler, and Fabrizio Corona, a mercenary of paparazzi photos that capture celebrities in compromising moments, which he then sells back to the VIPs who want to avoid publication in Italy's myriad gossip mags." But: "It is when the film focuses on Berlusconi himself that it really catches fire and becomes most revealing."
"Ironically," notes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety, "the documentary would indeed be more suited to TV broadcast, but will unlikely be screened that way in Italy. Pubcaster RAI, which Berlusconi as prime minister is responsible for, as well as Berlusconi's Mediaset channels have refused to even air Videocracy's trailer."
And as Arifa Akba reports in the Independent, that ban has, of course, only heightened interest in the film: "[R]equests from cinemas in Italy to obtain a print of the film have shot up from 35 to 70 venues, leading to many hundreds more screenings."
Update, 9/14: "Gandini's film is documentary as essay, the entire thing existing to lay out a powerfully presented thesis," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "It makes for riveting viewing, at times bizarre at other times horrifying but always impossible to turn away from. The access he has gained at the highest levels is perplexing and explainable only by the fact that these people are far from being ashamed of their accomplishments and methodology. They are proud of them and proud of themselves. And that's the most shocking part of all."
Update, 9/19: The "cynicism meshes flawlessly with Videocracy's humor," writes ST VanAirsdale at Movieline. "Maybe that's because it is the humor, from the fascist hymn that Mora gleefully sets (and shares) as his mobile ringtone to Berlusconi's campaign-karaoke commercial, simulcast nationwide with sing-along lyrics like 'Thank God Silvio exists!' And don't count on changing the channel, either; Berlusconi owns and/or controls virtually all of them."
Update, 9/23: IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks listens to Gandini.