Il Divo

I surprised myself by awarding only two stars to this much lauded film. Other reviewers, notably Philip French of the Observerand Anthony Quinn of the Independent both loved it, as did the Grand Jury at Cannes which awarded it the Jury Prize, alongside the Grand Prix to Gomorraand  the Palme D’Or to The Class, the latter decisions quite understandable. But I guess this is where real professional reviewers who study film and the likes of me and you will have a different take.

Il Divo – full title in Italian is Il Divo: La spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti – is perhaps a strange description for an aged politician. But in many ways, Giulo Andreotti, is a superstar, albeit a rather sinister one. Now 90, he was Italian Prime Minister no less than seven times between 1972 and 1992, and survived – by hook but mostly by crook no doubt – various trials, accusations of corruption and of involvement with the Mafia and organised crime, including possibly being the leader of the sinister P2 organisation.

The film opens with scenes of the older Andreotti forming his seventh and last Christian Democrat government. We are introduced to the fawning members of his entourage with a confusing array of subtitles and descriptors, and to politics of the era through a series of flashbacks, showing the brutal murders of, among others, the banker Roberto Calvi (of Blackfriars Bridge fame), the anti-Mafia judge, Giovanni Falcone, the journalist Moni Pecorelli and the kidnap and executing of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. These images haunt Andreotti day and night as he paces round his house and the corridors of power and form the basis of his constant nightmares and confessionals. 

The director, Sorrentino, is a chronicler of corruption in Italy, and in this movie he explores to what extent Andreotti was involved in all of these crimes; much of the involvement is of course implied, as Andreotti was never found guilty of anything, although he was never elected President by his jealous and suspicious peers (the chaotic workings of the Italian Parliament make Westminster look positively gentlemanly). Of course the questions are never answered and the audience is left to draw its own conclusions, but there is no doubt that Sorrentino’s message is that Andreotti is more than tainted. How else could he have survived 20 years in office without supping with the devil?

Andreotti is enigmatically played by Toni Servillo, whose expressionless face and mono-tonal voice, Dr Spock-like ears, and hunched stature make him appear more like a character from Star Warsthan a brilliant politician; however he has a sharp wit, all the more so delivered dead-pan. There is an amusing scene where he tears out the last two pages of the thriller he is reading because, he says, he doesn’t want to know who did it! And another set piece where the team is celebrating its electoral success with champagne; as they line up for the photo and raise their glasses we note that Andreotti’s fizz is his customary alka seltzer. Strangely he is attractive to women, his wife Livia (Anna Bonaiuto) and his secretary Vincenza Enea Gambogi (Piera Diegli Aposti) support him, even shredding his compromising fan mail, despite his apparent coolness towards them; the stunning Fanny Ardent makes an unaccredited cameo appearance as a diplomat’s wife and seems similarly spellbound. Perhaps this is his real star quality,

The film is beautifully shot – for instance the surreal scene where Andreotti takes his evening walk to pray, surrounded by gun-toting bodyguards and kerb crawling blacked-out cars, has a great soundtrack (lots of Saint Saens, Sibelius and Vivaldi), and is expertly directed, so what is the problem?

I think it’s all just too confusing; the film does not travel outside of Italy. There are too many unknown players and indeed Andreotti himself is a distant memory, although of course Aldo Moro, Calvi et al do resonate. Gomorra’s success rests in its brilliant evocation of the Naples underworld with a plot that is easy to follow, despite being in Italian and subtitled. Here the subtitles are sometimes superscripted and often do not add much to the comprehension – Italian politics is by repute some of the world’s most confusing, even to Italians, but for unsuspecting Brits, who think they are going to see an award-winning Italian film, it is just too hard to fathom. Opaque like Andreotti himself. But a work of art all the same.

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