Divo?! Judge Roy Hrab was looking forward to Devo.
"I have no minor vices."
Italian politician Giulio Andreotti (aka: Il Divo, The Prince of Darkness, The Hunchback, and The Black Pope), the subject of the film Il Divo, is still alive. Last year, at the ripe old age of 90, he reportedly walked out of a screening of the film, saying "No, no—that is really too much." Mr. Andreotti is entitled to his opinion, but I suggest that you don't make the same mistake. If you do, you'll miss a fascinating and captivating film.
Facts of the Case
Giulio Andreotti (Tony Servillo, Gomorrah) has been a fixture of Italian politics for about fifty years, serving as Prime Minister multiple times and holding various Ministerial positions. He continues to serve to this day since being appointed a Senator for life in 1991. However, Andreotti is viewed as a shadowy figure with many alleging links to the Mafia. These accusations eventually led to Italy's "Trial of the Century" in the 1990s that saw him investigated for politically motivated killings and corruption.
It is easy to understand, based on Tony Servillo's performance, why Andreotti was and, I suppose, continues to be looked at with suspicion. Part of it is based on the man's physical appearance: a perpetual poker face, hunched shoulders, folded down ears, and rigid posture. He has a Richard III type presence. On top of that, he speaks quickly, clips his words, is quick with cutting sarcasm, and appears to have neither emotions nor a moral compass. All of these factors make him inherently untrustworthy. Yet, despite these characteristics, or possibly because of them, he is arguably one of the most successful politicians of the 20th century.
Il Divo follows the latter portion of Andreotti's career, leading up to his sensational trial. However, the film has no specific story arch going on here that ties everything together. Instead, it presents a loosely connected series of interactions. He plots political strategies with his inner circle, confesses feelings of guilt over the assassination of a colleague to his priest, gives gifts and cash to less well-off constituents, and, in a rather odd scene, stares down a cat. It is a study of person who views every action, including dealings with his wife, through the prism of (presumably) political calculations. Interestingly, all this should not add up to an interesting feature; however, the film is effective, for the most part.
There are two main reasons why the film succeeds. The first, as mentioned above, is Servillo's performance. He is in almost every scene of this almost two hour production. His Andreotti is an impregnable character. His face is so unreadable that it is easy to become obsessed with trying to search every action for deeper meaning. He is an inscrutable man that no one can understand. It's not even clear why he's in politics. Is it the power? Money? Is it the challenge of political brinksmanship? Is he a narcissist? Perhaps it is a sense of duty, but there is no definitive, or even somewhat clear, answer. He is what he is: an enigmatic, political animal.
Its second strength is that it has style to burn. For example, the opening is a rapid montage of killings with captions giving the victim's name, occupation, and date of death, along with a pumping soundtrack. Then there are the solemn scenes of Andreotti strolling down empty streets to visit his church while accompanied by his ever vigilant machine gun armed security detail. And then there is a killing intercut with a horse race. Almost every scene is shot to maximize dramatic impact while managing not to spin into melodrama.
The transfer is excellent. The color is great. The picture is detailed and without flaw. The surround audio is similarly excellent. The sound effects, soundtrack, and dialogue come through crystal clear.
The DVD includes a decent set of extras. There is a "Making Of" featurette that through interviews with the cast and crew reviews the writing of the screenplay, search for financing, acting, and the editing and scoring process. The next extra is a shorter featurette covering the special effects used in the film. There is also footage from 11 deleted scenes; the lone interesting one is a scene of a meeting between Andreotti and Mikhail Gorbachev. Last, there is an interview with director Paolo Sorrentino. What is most interesting (and strange) about the interview is the Sorrentino appears to go out of his way to say that he doesn't believe that Andreotti was personally involved in any wrong doing, laying the blame on members of his entourage. Given the film's tone, it's odd and difficult to understand why Sorrentino would make such remarks, perhaps it's an indication of the continuing influence of Il Divo.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have a couple of quibbles. The first is that it is difficult to fully understand the film without familiarity of Italian political history. A lot of references about specific Italian political events, political figures, and organizations are made in the film. For example, there are few mentions of the "P2 Masonic Lodge" that just left me scratching my head.
Additionally, Andreotti is presented, I think, as too mysterious. It would have been better to gain at least some insight into his motivations for getting into politics. There is a somewhat confessional scene that is intended to convey his philosophy, but more like a rationalization than a true look into the man's mind.
Italian politics is notorious for scandals and Il Divo reinforces this observation. However, it does so by focusing on a truly absorbing character. And despite it's shortcomings this is a film worth viewing. It will be interesting to see if Sorrentino or another Italian filmmaker makes a more comprehensive and critical motion picture about Andreotti after he passes on.
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