Yesterday on the italian public TV broadcasting channel, Rai 1, a show anchored by Adriano Celentano hosted an exhilarating performance by Roberto Benigni, actor and filmmaker (many will remember his Oscar prize two years ago for "La vita è bella").
Roberto, whose political sympathies go to the left, targeted Silvio Berlusconi, head of the center-right government, in a way that for once did not raise harsh criticism or censorship that other comedians have experienced from Berlusconi himself or his coalition members in the recent past. The love for Benigni in Italy is so great that no politician is stupid enough to raise a finger against him.
His mockery reached the top when he invited Berlusconi to join him at the show, to enable him of making fun of his political opponent, Romano Prodi - who will probably steal his charge after the forthcoming elections next spring. Using the fact that no politicians are allowed to participate in a show such as Celentano's, Benigni invited Berlusconi to present his resignation as prime minister, in order to be able to come on stage and do what he is good at - being a comedian - and publicly say whatever he wants about his opponent. By doing this, the doubts about freedom of satire in italian TV expressed one week ago by other TV personalities invited on stage were masterly used as a weapon to mock the censor - by denying their existence.
In another exhilarating moment of the show, he said he cannot be accused of being partisan, since he's already planned to mock the head of the opposition next year - the pun being based on the fact that next year's premier will most likely be Prodi, and thus it will be Berlusconi the target of his satire again.
Roberto is a great artist. Yesterday he was a comedian, then he turned into a satirist, then into a singer (of dubious talent, something that added to the fun of the show), a dancer, and a transvestite (see picture, which shows Benigni in the dress of a soubrette that was stripped on stage), to end in a very serious recitation of Socrates' Apology.
Reciting Socrates' Apology on the stage of a 50% share prime time TV show was his masterpiece. I've never seen anybody able to catch the attention of the audience by teaching them some important but undeniably not easy pieces of literature. He did it, with his reciting talent and his magnetic eyes. The audience on stage was delirious, and so were the 12 million people who followed it from home.