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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Comedian Sabina Guzzanti mounts a Michael Moore-style attack on the Italian political system in a documentary at the Cannes film festival that paints an alarming picture of eroding democracy and official lies.
"Draquila: Italy Trembles" examines the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the medieval city of L'Aquila last year, prompting a vast government clean up and resettlement operation driven by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
A former television satirist and a longstanding Berlusconi foe, Guzzanti employs some of the comic techniques made familiar by Moore although her style is more measured than the maverick U.S. filmmaker.
Mixing TV clips, interviews and the occasional cartoon, she lays into the version of events that presents Berlusconi as the savior of L'Aquila, suggesting instead that he used the disaster to entrench his power and undermine democracy.
"I was working on something else and someone told me some weird stories about what was going on there," she told Reuters Television in an interview. "I was really, really shocked because it was something very big and nobody knew about it."
Even before it was shown "Draquila" -- a play on the names of the vampire and the city -- aroused controversy in Italy, with Culture Minister Sandro Bondi denouncing the film as "propaganda offending the truth and the whole Italian people."
He declared that he would not attend Cannes in protest but the opening of the film has been given a huge boost by an investigation opened in February into suspected corruption linked to public contracts awarded in the wake of the disaster.
"Everybody said, 'Why are you doing it because the earthquake will be forgotten next year?'" Guzzanti said. "But it is a topic now because in this earthquake you find all the elements of our crisis."
Berlusconi, who hosted last year's G8 summit in the city as a gesture of solidarity with the victims, has pointed to the hands-on response to the crisis as one of his government's biggest successes.
But Guzzanti accuses him of trying to create a vast and secretive alternative power structure by abusing and extending constitutional provisions that allow Italy's Civil Protection Authority to override normal democratic rules in emergencies.
"You don't expect to make this huge discovery, that there's like an army totally free to make laws and spend as much money as they want without any kind of control, directly dependent on the prime minister," she said.
After the earthquake, the population of the ruined city was moved to seaside hotels and tent settlements where their initial gratitude gave way to fury at the restrictions imposed as months passed and their homes remained closed.
A lucky few are shown resettled in spanking new suburban apartments with a bottle of prosecco wine and a note from Berlusconi to greet them but the film also shows the streets of old L'Aquila abandoned and closed off by military patrols.
Guzzanti said L'Aquila residents welcomed the film when it was shown at a special screening in the main town square.
"They knew what happened but they were shocked to see it so clearly," she said. "But they are in trouble, they are really in trouble because nobody is going to rebuild this city."
Additional reporting by Tessa Unsworth, editing by Paul Casciato