Mad Men:
Draquila—Italy Trembles, The Room

FILM, Film Festivals

Berlusconi’s racket is exposed in Sabina Guzzanti’s fiery documentary; Tommy Wiseau’s ultimate bad movie.

Like George W. Bush, one wonders what would possess a nation to vote Silvio Berlusconi in—not once, but twice. Owning most of the national media has helped his cause, yet sex scandals, probes into corruption, and being previously voted out of power are all part of his track record. Cue Sabina Guzzanti, an anti-establishment filmmaker offering a counter-narrative to the Berlusconi media. Her entertaining and at times frightening documentary doesn’t leave you with any doubt about its motives, while its images and narrative thrust certainly justify the controversy it has caused back in Italy.

Draquila—Italy Trembles centres on a classic photo-op for any politician—where natural disaster spells tragedy to everyone else except a ruling party in search of good PR. Following the aftermath of April 2009’s earthquake at Aquila, Berlusconi’s government set about an unprecedented shifting of legal loopholes in order to ‘deal’ with the tragedy, which in particular aids specific nepotistic dealings, and the shadowy Civil Protection Agency. And as the film digs deeper, the Aquila earthquake is revealed as but one incident used to justify an increase in central government power.

Fast-paced with animation and satire to propel its message, Guzzanti’s documentary captures some incredible footage of protests and bureaucratic indifference, while her sardonic tone matches the maddening circumstances that befell Aquila. A chilling telephone call between members of the Civil Protection Agency is the cherry on the top for condemning actions in the aftermath of the quake. Unwavering in her attack—almost to the point where the opposite voices provide little narrative use (sure they offer an opposing viewpoint, but we never really get into why they adore the Prime Minister except for the fact he might have bought them a house)—Guzzanti has, by the end, set up such a convincing milieu that Berlusconi, who is often merely presented as a licentious buffoon outside of Italy, is revealed to be far more dangerous than he appears.

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Midnight movie sensation The Room is finally playing to a local audience thanks to Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange sidebar of the New Zealand International Film Festival. Its screenings have turned into the kind of audience participation event that can’t easily be replicated—one involving plastic cutlery, banter and extremely low expectations. And the hype is warranted: The Room is indescribably bad. It’s hard to know exactly where its power comes from—writer/director Tommy Wiseau’s earnestness (he’s convinced he’s making a masterpiece which resembles the overheated melodrama of Tennessee Williams), or the sheer cringeworthy nature of the filmmaking—but I must admit I can’t help myself watching it over and over again. You just can’t fake this kind of awfulness.

Despite Wiseau’s subsequent efforts to pass the film off as black comedy, it’s hard to imagine the would-be director calculated any of this. Played by Tommy Wiseau himself, Johnny is a successful banker with a pan-European accent, and an extremely devious fiancée Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who has been cheating on poor Johnny with his best friend Mark (in case you missed it, the dialogue reiterates Johnny and Mark’s friendship over and over again). Tommy’s reaction to this—“You are tearing me apart Lisa!”—will soon enter the lexicon of memorable lines in what is a highly quotable film (“Anyway, how is your sex life?” is a another classic). The standard love triangle incorporates all sorts of things to pad out the story—battles with breast cancer, neighbours who are either really high on drugs or retarded (Wiseau’s words not mine), violent drug-dealers, and gratuitous shots of San Francisco (despite the film being clearly shot in Los Angeles) without ever really resolving anything. Other highlights include some of the worst sex scenes seen this side of Sky 1, characters who change actors mid-film, football passing, tape recorders which can record for days, stock that alternates between film and digital, unbelievable green-screen work, and truly dreadful music.

A six million dollar film (Wiseau claims it was financed by importing Korean leather jackets), The Room shows no evidence of its funding. Its script, camerawork, acting, and mise-en-scène (although to use a technical term to describe this movie feels a little silly) are so terribly executed that if one set out to watch meritorious films exclusively, then The Room would be the first candidate to avoid. However, for those who have no standards when it comes to the enjoyment of movies, you’d be mad to miss out on witnessing one of cinema’s Z-movie greats live.

‘Draquila—Italy Trembles’, Dir. Sabina Guzzanti
Italy, 2010; 97 minutes
In Italian with English subtitles
Screening: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin.
‘The Room’, Dir. Tommy Wiseau
USA, 2003; 99 minutes
Featuring: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Carolyn Minnott, Philip Haldiman.
Screening: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin. For New Zealand International Film Festival dates, programme details, and screenings in other regions, visit nzff.co.nz. For New Zealand International Film Festival dates, programme details, and screenings in other regions, visit nzff.co.nz.