The name Bettino Craxi probably means very little to anyone outside of Italy and to those not overly interested in politics. Craxi was an Italian politician, the leader of the Italian Socialist Party from 1976 to 1993, who was also the first socialist to hold the position of Prime Minister of Italy. He held this position from 1983 to 1987 and is still considered one of the most powerful and important politicians in modern Italian history. However, Craxi was also remembered for the big corruption scandal, and he fled from the trial to Tunisia, where the local dictator Benali gave him refuge, and he lived there until his death in 2000. After the Tunisian city of Hammamet, where he settled, the experienced Italian filmmaker Gianni Amelio, who started as Liliana Cavani’s assistant, named this biographical drama, and we follow the last few months in the life of the failed politician.
Craxi could also be described as Italy’s Ivo Sanader, a once powerful politician who stumbled into crime and corruption and who refused to admit guilt for what he was charged with until the very end. However, we only see Craxi here in the opening scene as a powerful guy who looks cheerful and dresses up and who warns his close advisor that they must be careful and says “We are not the church, we are dogs that broke into the church and everyone can’t wait to drive us out with a stick” describing the situation that the socialists had won power. Then we move to the year 1999 and see Craxi as a sick and embittered old man who cannot come to terms with the fact that he was despised and declared a thief. Now this powerful guy has turned into a caricature that everyone makes fun of, and he is visited only by the closest family members and rare associates, many of whom told the investigators everything about how it was done.
Just as is often the case with these kinds of politicians, abuse of power and malfeasance are something that is taken for granted and he justifies himself and his actions that everyone was doing the same as him, but he is still taken as a scapegoat. And he is probably not too wrong, and among others, the son of his former close associate is also arriving in Hammamet, who is recording a series of interviews with Craxi. And definitely “Hammamet” is a film that is not for everyone, it is primarily a character study for those who are interested in politics and the film was mostly made for the Italian audience to whom this topic is still close and much more familiar. Whether Amelio’s intention was to make a film that would try to justify Craxi’s actions or a film that he himself tries to penetrate into Craxi’s mystery, I was not able to fully understand, probably also because I cannot say that I particularly know the details of the case itself.
Amelio was already known as a politically engaged filmmaker who, in his previous films, often dealt with politically sensitive topics, and “Hammamet” could also be described as a retrospection of the life of an old man who was once someone and something, but now is completely forgotten and left by everyone. Craxi was embodied by the famous Italian actor Pierfranceso Favino, who is completely unrecognizable under the mask and impossible to recognize. A year earlier, Favino won the award for the best Italian actor in another biographical drama, the much better “Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio, and now he was nominated for the same award. “Hammamet” had as many as 14 nominations for the David di Donatello Award, among them for best film and direction, but in the end it only took the award for best make-up.