Thursday, December 11, 2008

Il Divo **1/2

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Toni Servillo
Anna Bonaiuto, Piera Degli Esposti, Paolo Graziosi

"Il Divo Giulio", "Beelzebub", "The Dark Pope", "The Salamander" all those are nicknames attributed to Giulio Andreotti (Servillo), the Italian Prime Minister whose Christian Democratic party ruled Italy for more than four decades until they were linked to the mafia in the 90s.
Paolo Sorrentino's biopic is a provocative work that plays with genre conventions to deliver a playful crash course through Italian politics.
One that sadly feels pointless for people not familiar with Italy. You can feel that the movie and the ideas it conveys are incendiary, you're just never sure why.
The film rightfully begins with an Italian Glossary letting people outside the peninsula know what the movie will be about, including the names of key political parties and its members.
This is followed by a brutal, brilliant sequence where several men are killed in different places. Set to an infectious song, the scene is something straight out of Tarantino and gives viewers an awkward sense of joy.
It is only after this violent display that we meet Andreotti, sitting behind a desk, his face covered in acupuncture needles.
Can it be this weird looking, old man who was responsible for the mayhem we saw before? The rest of the film will try to answer this as it slowly links the murders to Andreotti while he evades his involvement and provides Servillo with a wonderful showcase to prove his acting skills.
The actor, who is in his late forties, plays the Senator from his sixties up (aided by impressive makeup that gives Servillo, Andreotti's flaccid skin and unique ears).
Servillo does great job, particularly with Andreotti's manierisms and his hunched walk that gives the film some of its funniest scenes, but the screenplay never lets the actor to go beyond impersonation.
A lot is made by the rest of the characters about how Andreotti is an impenetrable fortress, a man as resilient as he is inexpressive.
His voice never seems to change tone and he delivers powerful one liners infused with acid sarcasm. But it is Servillo's delivery that avoids making them sound like wicked Yoda-isms, because the script by itself doesn't help that much.
Perhaps Sorrentino never intended to give his interpretation of the man, or to try and humanize his subject, but this approach makes the film difficult to connect to and aimless sometimes.
Not that there's anything wrong with detached movies (this would make several filmographies obsolete) but Sorrentino doesn't seem to know why is he delivering this story and why did he choose to do it this way.
He shows off he has virtuoso visual skills (his work with photographer Luca Bigazzi and editor Christiano Travagliolo is brilliant) especially during the first twenty minutes or so of the film where it sets a mood that it never fulfills.
But Sorrentino's trouble is in the form of encompassing what he wants to say. There is too much to cover and the constant name dropping will obviously remain relevant only to those within the country where it was made (a film not interested in international commercialization is sort of a wonder though).
It's easy to assume that the film is completely nationalist and actually doesn't care for foreigners, if that wasn't the case it would've made an attempt to give its characters summarized backstories or worried more with how the ensemble conveys them, as opposed to the "circus in a glassbox" feel it goes for.
The best scenes in the film are those that become universal, as in a Senate discussion that goes out of hand in seconds that immediately remind the rest of the world what Italian politics have become known for, or the more intimate moments featuring Andreotti's private Secretary, Mrs. Enea (Degli Esposti) whose loyalty and apparent love towards her boss is the closest the movie ever comes of conveying real human beings. But otherwise it's as if Andreotti is a Fellini character in a Scorsese movie.
The movie, like Andreotti, remains completely enigmatic, its tongue in cheekness and winks perhaps more a sign of defeat than achievement.
If it couldn't say anything new about Il Divo, it settles for witty, stylish reenactment.
That Andreotti now serves as Senator for life in the Italian Senate shows us who got to laugh last.

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