Dir/scr: Paolo Sorrentino. Italy-France. 2008. 117mins.
Sometimes referred to ironically as Il Divo - an honorific title given to his ‘divine’ namesake, Julius Caesar - 89-year-old Giulio Andreotti is the eminence grise of Italian politics (2008 marks his uninterrupted62nd year as a parliamentarian). Paolo Sorrentino’s enjoyably original, lurid, sardonic political opera tries to anatomise the character and explain the longevity of a man who has been prime minister three times and has emerged unscathed from no less than 26 separate court cases on charges that include corruption and Mafia involvement. If the director never quite gets to the heart of the man, that’s part of his point: Andreotti emerges from the film as a collection of fragments: a slippery strategist, a political opportunist, a purveyor of witty bon mots, a dutiful but opaque husband, a worldly Catholic.
Though Andreotti is less of a topical figure in Italy than current prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, he is if anything even more deeply branded on the nation’s consciousness. The film has already begun to generate a flurry of media interest that will turn into a full-scale storm in the days around Il Divo’s May 28 Italian release, and shepherd it towards the brisk takings enjoyed by Nanni Moretti’s Berlusconi film The Caiman. It will be a different matter outside of Italy: despite the wide arthouse tour of his second film, The Consequences Of Love, Sorrentino is not yet a poster name, and neither is Andreotti. Receptive, politically-aware audiences who take a gamble, though, should have a good time.
A glossary at the beginning fills us in on some of the key players around the time of Andreotti’s political ascendancy: the Christian Democrat (DC) party he belonged to, the sinister, power-broking P2 masonic lodge he was suspected of favouring, and Aldo Moro - the fellow DC leader who was murdered at the hands of the Red Brigades after 55 days of imprisonment, during Andreotti’s second stint as PM. But Sorrentino makes it clear that this is not a history lesson in his very first take, a garishly-lit, wide-angle tableau showing the politician with a forehead halo of accupuncture needles (a failed cure for his frequent migraines). Stagey lighting, direct camera eye matches, surreal set pieces reminiscent of Fellini’s Roma and a quirky soundtrack stress the fact that this is political theatre, an operetta of power.
The focal point is Toni Servillo’s delicious take on Andreotti. Grotesque and subtly powerful at the same time, this stiff, hunched Italian Robespierre who never moves from the waist up and always wears a half-mocking smile hits the perfect balance between character and caricature. Around him revolve a series of enjoyable minor characters, from Carlo Buccirosso’s frisky Paolo Cirino Pomicino (a fellow DC politician and member of Andreotti’s inner circle) to Andreotti’s wife Giulia - a small role that is leant tremendous depth byAnna Bonaiuto’s nuanced performance.
Moments of laugh-out-loud humour abound - mostly associated with authentic Andreotti one-liners. Curiously it’s when the film tries to get too serious - notably in an overlong ‘je t’accuse’ speech by hostile newspaper editor Eugenio Scalfari (Bosetti) that it drags. What fascinates the audience, in the end, is the director’s own fascination with a man he can’t quite bring himself to hate. This makes Il Divo a better film than The Caiman: because it humanises its subject, and leaves us with a real sense of the loneliness of a difficult, private man who claims to have met ‘around three hundred thousand people’ in a political career that shows no sign of stopping.
(49) 89 6734 6915